Dave Dixon and his wife are bunking with friends after losing power in a snow-and-ice storm that caused more than a million U.S. outages — the vast majority of them in a single state, Pennsylvania.
The storm has long since cleared out, but its effects are expected to linger for days as utility crews work feverishly to restore power to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania residents left in the dark and cold. One official likened the damage to what you'd expect to see from a hurricane.
“People are going to have to have some patience at this point,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday, warning that an overnight refreeze could cause more problems on the roads Thursday.
Corbett late Wednesday issued a disaster emergency proclamation, freeing up state agencies to use all available resources and personnel.
The Northeast's second winter storm of the week dumped more than a foot of snow in some states, forcing schools, businesses and government offices to close, snarling air travel and sending cars and trucks sliding on slippery roads and highways — an all-too-familiar litany of misery in a winter where the storms seem to be tripping over each other.
What made this one stand out — and caused all those outages — was the thick coating of ice it left on trees and power lines.
At its height, the storm knocked out power to nearly 849,000 customers in Pennsylvania, most of them in the counties around Philadelphia. Though sizeable, it's still less than the nearly 1.8 million that were left without power after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
PECO, southeastern Pennsylvania's dominant utility, warned it could be until the weekend before the lights come back on for all of its 500,000 customers without power. In neighboring Maryland, where 125,000 customers were in the dark, power companies gave an estimate of Friday. Tens of thousands of New Jersey residents also lacked electricity.
While some homeowners fired up generators, others, like the Dixons, are relying on the generosity of others to power them through.
They planned to stay with their friends overnight Thursday — and possibly longer.
“If we wear out our welcome, we'll get a hotel,” said Dixon, whose home in the Philadelphia suburbs went dark at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Thousands of utility workers descended on the Philadelphia suburbs to get the lights back on.
PECO said early Thursday that about 440,000 customers were still without power and that the sheer scope of the work made the going slow. It was the second-worst storm in PECO's history — eclipsed only by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 — with the utility reporting 623,000 outages at one point Wednesday.
“We know that this is going to take multiple days,” PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez said.
About 3,500 employees and contractors were working to restore power, while another 1,000 linemen from utilities as far as Chicago were expected to join the company's efforts, she said.
Several hospitals were running on backup generators. Most decided to cancel elective surgeries and out-patient testing.
The American Red Cross opened three shelters in southeastern Pennsylvania and stood ready to open more.
“We've been told to be prepared for four to six days. We are gathering staff and volunteers for up to a week,” said Red Cross spokesman Dave Schrader.