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The Boston Globe


In some areas, utility crews go round the clock

In DeWitt Township, Mich., people were scrambling to get the power on. As many as 500,000 in the state lost service.

Greg DeRuiter/Lansing State Journal via Associated Press

In DeWitt Township, Mich., people were scrambling to get the power on. As many as 500,000 in the state lost service.

DETROIT — Ted and Angela Montgomery had planned to entertain family and friends on Christmas at their home in Lapeer, north of Detroit. But their power, which has been out for days, wasn’t restored in time.

‘‘We’ve just been using our fireplace, using the one in the great room, and that’s been keeping it pretty decent,’’ said 61-year-old Ted Montgomery, who headed for a shelter in a hotel on Christmas Eve. ‘‘We planned a little family gathering we had to cancel.’’

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Montgomery was among a half-million utility customers — from Michigan to Maine and into Canada — who lost power in an ice storm last weekend that one utility called the worst during Christmas week in its history.

Repair crews were working around the clock to restore service, and they reported some progress Wednesday, despite more snow rolling into the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest overnight.

But while some families were able to return to finally-warm homes, others could not, and more bad weather was on the way across the region.

Frigid temperatures from the Great Lakes to New England meant that ice remained on power lines and limbs. Officials worried that wind gusts of more than 20 miles per hour could bring down more branches and that 2 to 6 inches of snow forecast for some areas on Thursday would hamper line crews trying to get to remote spots.

Authorities blame the storm for 27 deaths; 17 in the United States and 10 in Canada. Five people in Canada died from carbon monoxide poisoning from emergency generators powering their homes, while two people in Michigan, a man in Maine, and a man in Vermont also died from poisonous fumes.

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In Michigan, police say a 73-year-old woman died Christmas Eve when she ran a stoplight that was out of service because of the ice storm.

About 156,000 homes were still without power Wednesday evening in Michigan, down from more than 500,000 at the storm’s peak.

In Canada, about 160,000 customers were without power Wednesday evening. There were 72,000 customers without power in Toronto, down from 300,000 at the height of the outages, and Mayor Rob Ford said some may not have power restored until the weekend.

Consumers Energy — the largest utility in Michigan — said it hadn’t had this many outages during any Christmas week in its 126-year history. Close to 17 percent of its 1.8 million electric customers lost power during the storm that hit late Saturday; roughly 129,000 remained without it Wednesday morning.

DTE Energy, which serves customers in the southeastern part of the state, said crews from as far away as West Virginia and Georgia were working 16-hour shifts in Michigan.

The American Red Cross said shelters stocked with food, blankets, and water had been set up in Lapeer County, north of Detroit, where electricity was not expected to be back until some time after Wednesday.

The high temperature in Detroit on Wednesday was in the 20s, with about an inch of snow forecast.

Ken Fuller runs a generator repair shop in Lansing, Mich., where 13,000 were without power. He typically closes by noon on Christmas Eve, but at 12:30 p.m. he was cleaning out the carburetor of a broken generator — and had five more waiting to be serviced.

‘‘The temperature outside is 15 to 20 degrees,’’ Fuller said. ‘‘Christmas is going to have to take second fiddle right now because houses are getting cold, freezing water pipes.’’

That was the concern that John Potbury and his family faced outside Flint. They lost electricity at 6 a.m. Sunday and have been living in a single bedroom warmed by generator-powered space heaters. The lights on their tree, of course were dark.

‘‘Even though the house is freezing cold, the freezer items were starting to thaw out,’’ Potbury said.

But Potbury’s children, 8-year-old Jacob and 5-year-old Jackson, kept things in perspective, telling their dad Tuesday that ‘‘Santa runs on reindeer power, not electricity, so he should be OK.’’

Wednesday was also the 10th anniversary of a Christmas Day mudslide that swept through a Southern California church mountain retreat. Fourteen people — including nine children — were killed on Dec. 25, 2003, when a flood of water, boulders, and debris tore through a campground in the foothills of San Bernardino.

Members of the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church and Foundation held summer and winter camps at the 45-acre site at Waterman Canyon for more than four decades. Now, the group holds summer camp in nearby Crestline and has abandoned winter sessions.

Before the deadly mudslide, a swath of the hillside had been scarred by fall wildfires, leaving the area prone to erosion and flash flooding. A Pacific storm that Christmas dropped nearly 4 inches of rain on the region.

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