Saturday, 2:15 PM
Nearly 1 million remain without power after ice storm
By Andrew Ryan, Brian R. Ballou, David Abel, John R. Ellement, Globe Staff, and Anne Baker, Globe Correspondent
Nearly 1 million homes and businesses remain without power in New England this evening following a massive winter storm that encrusted the region in an inch-thick sheet of ice.
Tree limbs and powers lines continue to collapse under the crushing weight of the ice as crews with chainsaws work to clear debris that has blocked roads and slowed recovery efforts. A warm afternoon sun accelerated some melting, but wind gusting at 25 to 30 miles per hour continued to knock down branches and utility wires.
Hardest hit was northern Worcester County, where 109,000 people are still without electricity. Downed trees and sagging power lines have made some roads impassable in Fitchburg, Leominster, and the city of Worcester. In Holden, so much ice and debris rained from trees this afternoon that parents sent their children outside to play wearing bicycle helmets.
“There are 350,000 households without power right now in Massachusetts in the areas hardest hit by the storm,'' the Route 2 and Interstate 495 corridors, Governor Deval Patrick said at a news conference this afternoon at a fire station in Fitchburg. "We’re not out of the woods, as they say, because temperatures are expected to drop and freezing will follow.”
Patrick declared a state of emergency, which allowed him to mobilize 500 members of the National Guard to help clear roads and provide support. The governor said he will request a presidential disaster declaration, which would make federal money available for recovery efforts. Earlier in the day, Patrick urged people to be patient.
"The earliest estimate that we have for power being restored is Monday," Patrick said at a news conference at the state's emergency management agency in Framingham. "And I think many of us view that as an ambitious estimate at this point."
"Nobody expected the impact of this storm to be quite so devastating," said Worcester's mayor, Konstantina Lukes.
A state of emergency has also been declared in New Hampshire, where 400,000 are in the dark. In Maine, 200,000 are without power, according to the state's emergency management agency. Connecticut Light & Power reported that nearly 17,000 of its 1 million customers are without service. In Vermont, at least 36,000 utility customers are without electricity, and the power is out for about 5,000 National Grid customers in Rhode Island.
"There's tons and tons of debris out there, which is impacting the utilities' ability to restore power," said Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. "It's as bad as we've seen at least over the last 10 years."
Winds are expected to die down late this evening as temperatures drop back below freezing, according to Walter Drag, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Taunton. Temperatures are expected to hit a low of 14 degrees overnight outside Boston. On Saturday temperatures are expected to remain below freezing, dipping into the single digits overnight in inland Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.
"Sunday begins a warm up," Drag said, "a welcome warm up."
The 2 to 4 inches of rain that fell during the storm has caused minor flooding, pushing several small rivers and streams over their banks. The headwaters of the Charles River in Medway is just above the flood stage, as is the Aberjona River in Winchester, Old Swamp River in South Weymouth, and Jones Brook in Billerica.
The Sudbury River crested this afternoon at 1.4-feet above flood stage in the Saxonville section of Framingham. The Assabet River in Maynard is also expected to pass its 5-foot flood stage later this evening.