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Snowstorm Leave Parts Of Midwest, Northeast And Canada Powerless

Christmas is less than merry and far from bright for hundreds of thousands of families from the upper Midwest to the far northeast and into Canada, where ice storms have downed power lines, leaving many households in the cold and dark.

This is the worst holiday week in the 126-year history of Michigan's largest power company, Consumers Energy. The outages began over the weekend, affecting nearly 350,000 customers. Power has been restored to many, but more than 120,000 remain in the dark.

Consumer Energy spokeswoman Deborah Dodd says because the weather has remained frigid, nothing has melted. "For every quarter-inch of ice we get on a line, that equals 500 pounds of pressure on an electric line," she explains. "In some places we got an inch of ice on trees and surfaces, so it's horrible working conditions. Today in some places, we're expecting winds to pick up, which doesn't help our efforts at all."

Dodd says there are nearly 3,000 field and office workers pitching in, including workers from 11 other states and the District of Columbia.

The ice storms also hit Toronto hard, where nearly 300,000 customers lost power. At midday Wednesday, Toronto Hydro reported just 72,000 still had no electricity.

In Maine, where 100,000 customers were without electricity on Tuesday, some 1,800 workers managed to restore power to about half of them. Maine Central Power spokeswoman Gail Rice says the company hopes to have the lights back on for the rest by late Thursday, but the work is difficult.

"Our line workers have to be extremely careful when they're working on things," Rice says, "and also it's an extremely painstaking process to chip ice off the equipment to reenergize the circuits."

The ice storm and power outages have been linked to at least 14 deaths. In Maine, a 50-year-old man using a generator to keep warm was overcome by fumes. His death was the second attributed to fumes from a generator. In Michigan, police say two people died in automobile collisions caused by icy roads.

In eastern Michigan, the forecast is for snow showers picking up tonight. Power there may not be restored until the weekend.

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Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."