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Snow, ice storm blasts Midwest

Hundreds of thousands lose power in Illinois, Indiana

BY VICKI DESORMIER | December 19, 2008

Those wishing for a white Christmas got a bit more than they bargained for last week in the Midwest. Snow and ice storms with high winds ripped through a center of the country from northern Indiana to Ohio to western Pennsylvania.

"It's not so cold...it's cold, but it'll be colder," Jeanette Stickley, a volunteer at Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church in Chicago, said Friday morning. "Right now, it's just messy."

And, the blizzard conditions whipped electrical poles while ice weighed down branches that then snapped onto the wires, sometimes breaking them and disrupting service to more than 220,000 homes.

By Friday afternoon, the storm had left 161,000 customers without power in Indiana, 47,000 in Illinois and 15,000 in Ohio. The utilities said the outages would likely grow as the storm marches across the Midwest toward the Atlantic Coast. Northern Indiana Public Service Co. says it has all available crews working to restore over 27,000 outages.

"When the lines go down on the ground, that's our biggest concern," said Indiana Michigan Power spokesman Mark Brian. "When you combine ice, which is an electric utility's nightmare, with wind, you've got some serious issues."

Most flights were canceled at Fort Wayne International Airport.

State police in northern Indiana reported numerous accidents due to icy roads. Cars, trooper Doug Kelly said, cars were simply slidng off the road or into one another.

"The main roads in the Fort Wayne area are passable, but other roads look like ice rinks," he said.

The American Red Cross of Northern Indiana set up a shelter at the Fort Wayne Memorial Coliseum on Friday afternoon.

Linda Conkle, a Red Cross volunteer, said she didn't know how many of the 161,000 people who were in homes with no heat or power would take advantage of the shelter, but the Red Cross and emergency preparedness officials decided to cancel the Mad Ants (an NBA development team) game so the coliseum could be used to house those in need.

According to Conkle, the Red Cross shelter is available for any one in the northern Indiana area looking for a warm place to sleep on Friday night. She did not believe any local churches in the region were preparing beds for residents.

"There are a lot of people up here without power," she said. "I think we'll get through and the power company is working to get the power on as quick as they can so it shouldn't be long before everyone is back home."

While there was a great deal of snow in the Chicagoland area, residents there were spared the full brunt of the ice storm.The large storm was expected to drop snow from Minnesota to Connecticut, with ice and freezing rain falling in northern Indiana, Ohio and western Pennsylvania. The freezing rain was causing more damage to the power system than the snow because the ice weighs down tree branches, snapping them onto power lines.

According to Kat Hindmand, who is director of disaster preparedness for the American Red Cross of Greater of Chicago said they have not been called upon to set up any shelters in the Chicago area. She said they set up cots and blankets at the Greyhound bus station on Thursday night when the bus company suspended travel for several hours, leaving several dozen riders stuck at the termnal.

"We were just giving them a place to sleep for a little while," Hindmand said.

Wind and severe winter storm advisories are still being issued for Indiana and the threat of ice and wind damage exists in the path of the storm all the way to the Atlantic coast in Connecticut.

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