North America

Death threat, fistfights as power outages linger

Trees frozen in ice cripple a section of power lines in Belgrade Dec. 24, 2013. From Michigan to Maine, hundreds of thousands lost power in a massive ice storm. (Photo: Michael G. Seamans, Morning Sentinel, AP)As frustration mounted a week after a paralyzing ice storm, utility crews Friday chipped away at lingering power outages still affecting thousands of residents in Michigan, Maine and Canada.
 
In Michigan, a homeowner got into a fistfight with thieves who stole his generator, and a Maine crew was withdrawn temporarily after a death threat from an angry, cold customer.
 
Michigan was hardest hit by last weekend's storm, as nearly 600,000 homes and businesses lost power; 64,000 customers statewide were still blacked out as of Friday morning.
 
Michigan power officials reported steady progress but said outages would continue in some areas into late Saturday, Sunday and beyond.
 
By late afternoon Friday, Maine's two primary utilities reported that 9,000 customers still had no power, down from a peak of 120,000 on Christmas Eve.
 
Susan Faloon, a spokesperson for Maine's Bangor Hydro, said one customer called in a death threat to a service center after he was told by a crew working in Surry, Maine, that their immediate project would not yet directly restore power to his home, the Bangor Daily News reports.
 
Faloon paraphrased the caller's threat as saying, "If that crew doesn't turn around and get my power back on I'm probably going to lose it. I'm probably going to kill someone."
 
She said yanking the crew, even temporarily, from Surry was likely to slow the process of getting power restored.
 
The Maine State Police "talked to" the "very frustrated" customer but will not charge him, a trooper told the Daily News on Friday.
 
In Michigan, nearly 13,000 customers around Lansing, the state capital, continued the cold waiting game, utility companies reported. The Board of Water and Light said just before 5 p.m. that 3,000 of its customers were without power, up from 2,600 12 hours earlier, the Lansing State Journal reported.
 
Most customers should be restored by late Sunday, the public utility added, though small pockets might linger into the week. Some customers might need to have an electrician fix components that are the owner's responsibility before power is restored.
 
BWL General Manager J. Peter Lark said 30 crews — consisting of two to three workers — were on the job Friday, a figure he called "optimum." The utility has not brought in additional help. By comparison, Consumers Energy, which serves parts of suburban Lansing, brought in about 1,000 workers from 13 states and the District of Columbia to lend a hand.
 
Lark said customers "have every right to feel frustrated," and promised a review of how his agency responded.
 
That was cold comfort to many residents, who have have braved sub-freezing temperatures all week.
 
"People are really angry at this point. There are people who are just losing it. We want to know where we are on the list," said Alice Dreger, of East Lansing, home to Michigan State University.
 
In Lansing Township, a desperate Dave Behnke, 60, reported a state of desperation in his neighborhood, which he called a "forgotten zone."
 
He was especially dismayed when a newly bought $500 generator went silent around 11 p.m. Investigating, Behnke saw two men making off with the generator. He got it back in a punch-out and lost a tooth in the process.
 
"They told me the next day at the police department there'd been mine and four other ones stolen and I was the only one who got mine back because I chased the guys," Behnke told Lansing State Journal reporter Steven R. Reed.
 
At least one Michigan utility company is warning more problems could be on the way as temperatures warm up — even while the current colder temperatures make for more falling tree branches and other hazards.
 
Mary Palkovich, vice president of energy delivery for Consumers Energy, said warmer temperatures expected over the next couple of days could cause more tree limbs to snap and fall onto power lines as ice melts.
 
"This is an issue we often see with ice storms," Palkovich said in a statement. "It's not unusual, but it is a challenge for our crews and our customers."
 
In eastern Canada, about 50,000 customers — about half in Toronto — were waiting for service to be restored.
 
By Friday night, Toronto Hydro said that 25,750 customers still were without power but that 90% of the city's grid had been restored, the CBC reported. Crews continued to work around the clock, with full restoration still a few days away, a spokeswoman said.
 
Contributing: Steven R. Reed, Lansing State Journal; Associated Press

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