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No light at the end of tunnel for over 1m people

MORE than a million people stranded in darkness yesterday in the wake of an icy winter storm could face a lengthy wait for electricity to course through their frosty homes, even as federal help was promised to two states hit hardest by the storm.

Late Wednesday, US President Barack Obama signed federal emergency declarations, and crews worked around the clock to resurrect power lines downed by thick ice. Officials in states from Oklahoma to West Virginia fought to do the same.

Utility officials estimated that 1.33 million homes and businesses across many states were powerless early yesterday, and warned that it could be mid-February before some customers had power. The storm has been blamed for at least 23 deaths so far.

Many flocked to shelters, while others huddled next to wood-burning fires and portable heaters to fend off the frigid night air. Some who stayed put relied on gas stoves to cook food. Meanwhile, emergency officials feared that the crisis could escalate as temperatures plunged.

"I'm so worried that we're going to have a death due to hypothermia or carbon monoxide," said John Robinson, the severe weather coordinator for the National Weather Service in Arkansas. Some heaters, if improperly used, can generate dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

Other communities urged people to conserve water because the outages could limit supplies.

Tony Cipolla managed to keep warm by building a fire at his powerless home near Seneca Park in Louisville, cooking a pot of soup over a gas stove. But there wasn't a long-term plan for Cipolla and his two children if electricity wasn't restored.

"If it'll be a couple days, then we'll be in trouble," Cipolla told The Courier-Journal in Louisville, where temperatures dipped into the 20s overnight.

More than a half-million were without power in Kentucky, where the power outages produced by the ice storm were outdone only by the remnants of Hurricane Ike, which lashed the state with fierce winds last year, leaving about 600,000 customers without power.

"We've got lots of counties that do not have any communication, any heat, any power," Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said on Wednesday.


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