Crews pushing to restore power

Posted Dec. 16, 2008, at 9:48 p.m.

CONCORD, N.H. — Some residents of ice-ravaged New Hampshire may not get their power back until next week, officials said Tuesday, as they sounded the alarm about a rising number of people being overcome by fumes as they use alternate sources for heat and light.

“It’s fair to say there may be some pockets of customers that would be [without power] beyond the weekend,” said Tom Goetz, chairman of the state Public Utilities Commission.

He said the southwestern area and the Seacoast were especially hard-hit and require the most work, including untangling wires from trees before crews can clear debris and make way for utility workers to begin restoring power.

At a briefing led by Gov. John Lynch, officials said more people are being poisoned by carbon monoxide as they run generators or heaters in their homes.

Fire Marshal Bill Degnan said at least 39 people have been stricken. One man died in Danville when a generator filled his mobile home with fumes, and others have been hospitalized.

Overnight Monday, two people were overcome in Rindge.

In Epping, a disabled man died without power to run oxygen equipment. He had not told the Epping Fire Department to keep a watch over him in outages, officials said.

Lynch acknowledged that residents are getting frustrated, not so much about being in the dark literally as being in the dark regarding when they can expect their lights back on.

He said he pressed utility officials at a meeting Monday to tell community leaders what they know about their restoration schedule.

“I impressed on them the need to have their community liaisons have a proactive outreach program so the communities and their leaders would have the information that the utility companies themselves have,” Lynch said.

Goetz said the utilities are trying to balance providing information without raising false hopes.

As of Tuesday, power had been restored to nearly three-quarters of the New Hampshire homes and businesses left in the dark by last week’s ice storm.

Utilities reported roughly 113,000 customers still without power in the state Tuesday afternoon, down from a peak of 430,000.

Crews pushed hard around the region Monday, when the weather was warm, before a mix of rain and snow forecast for Tuesday and today could complicate their efforts.

Unseasonably mild weather Monday melted ice on trees. Temperatures soared to 60 degrees, making it warmer outside than inside some dark apartments and houses.

In Portland, Maine, the city hit a record high for the day at 56 degrees, just four days after the storm knocked out power to 220,000 customers around the state.

The number of Maine homes and businesses still without electricity has fallen to an estimated 7,850 as hundreds of utility crews continue restoring power in southern Maine.

Central Maine Power said all of the outages are in York County with all power in the midcoast area restored during the day Tuesday.

CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said she expects power to be totally restored to all customers by late tonight.

Meanwhile, President Bush has granted Gov. John Baldacci’s request for an emergency declaration, which allows the federal government to release supplies to assist emergency and utility workers in the final stretch of restoring electricity. It covers York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties.

Hundreds of utility crews from as far away as Tennessee and South Carolina continued working Tuesday to turn on the lights — and more important, power to furnaces and wells.

So far, Bush has declared states of emergency in New Hampshire, Maine and nine of Massachusetts’ 14 counties, directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide relief assistance.

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency spokesman Peter Judge said about 77,000 customers were waiting for power to be restored Tuesday, down from approximately 350,000 in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

Crews were hoping to clear tree debris from most secondary roads in Massachusetts by the end of the day, he said. About 1,500 National Guard troops were involved in recovery efforts.

In Vermont, Gov. Jim Douglas declared the state’s four southern counties disaster areas. About 3,700 customers were still without power Tuesday morning, said the Central Vermont Public Service Corp. and Green Mountain Power. Officials there estimated it could be the middle of the week before all customers have their power back.

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