Power restoration in snowy East could take days

By Dave Collins

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 31 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Students who were driven out of their dorms at Fairleigh Dickinson University rest on cots in a shelter at the school's gym following a rare October snowstorm, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011, in Hackensack, N.J. The university has extended its invitation to students and community members who lost power during the storm.

Julio Cortez, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. — Residents across the Northeast faced the prospect of days without electricity or heat Monday after an early-season storm dumped as much as 30 inches of wet, heavy snow that snapped trees and power lines, closed hundreds of schools, and disrupted plans for Halloween trick-or-treating.

Communities from Maryland to Maine that suffered through a tough winter last year followed by a series of floods and storms went into now-familiar emergency mode as roads closed, shelters opened and regional transit was suspended or delayed.

The storm's lingering effects, including power failures and hundreds of closed schools, will probably outlast the snow. Temperatures are expected to begin rising Monday and the snow will start melting, the National Weather Service said.

The early nor'easter had utility companies struggling to restore electricity to more than 3 million homes and businesses. By midday Monday, the number without power was still above 2 million but falling. But officials in some states warned it could be days or even a week before residents have power again.

In Allentown, Pa., tree branches littered yards and residents girded for a long haul without power. Anne Warschauer, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor from Germany, refused to leave her home on a quiet tree-lined street even though the temperature inside had plummeted.

"I'm freezing," she acknowledged. But she said she worried about her cat, Pumpkin.

"They're not going to get the power back on until Thursday, Anne. You can't stay here," said her friend, 63-year-old Emma Saylor.

"I'm not going," Warschauer replied. "So let's not talk about that anymore."

The trees, branches and power lines crisscrossing roads and rail lines led to a tough Monday morning commute for many. Motorists hunted for open gas stations as power failures rendered pumps inoperable; at a 7-Eleven in Hartford, two dozen cars waited in a line that stretched into the street and disrupted traffic.

"There's no gas anywhere," said Debra Palmisano, of Plainville, who spent most of the morning looking around the capital city. "It's like we're in a war zone. It's pretty scary, actually."

Some local officials canceled or postponed Halloween activities, fearful that young trick-or-treaters could wander into areas with downed power lines or trees ready to topple.

The snowstorm smashed record totals for October and worsened as it moved north. Communities in western Massachusetts were among the hardest hit. Snowfall totals topped 27 inches in Plainfield, and nearby Windsor got 26 inches.

In New Hampshire's capital of Concord, more than 22 inches fell, weeks ahead of the usual first measurable snowfall. States of emergency were declared in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and parts of New York.

West Milford, N.J., had 19 inches Sunday. Gov. Chris Christie declared statewide damage to utilities worse than that wrought by Hurricane Irene, a deadly storm that blew through the state in August.

Things were similar in Connecticut, where the power loss of 800,000 broke a record set by Irene. By early Monday, around 400,000 people lacked power in New Jersey and more than 750,000 in Connecticut.

Compounding the storm's impact were unfallen leaves that gave the snow something extra to cling to and loaded branches with tremendous weight, snapping them off and sending them plunging onto power lines and across roads and homes.

Along the coast and in such cities as Boston, the relatively warm ocean helped keep snowfall totals lower. Washington received a trace, tying a 1925 record for the date.

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