Hundreds of thousands of Americans have spent a second chilly day without electricity as utility crews from as far away as Canada and Arkansas scrambled to restore power lost when a heavy coating of ice took down trees and limbs in the mid-Atlantic.
State officials likened the scope of the damage to a hurricane. Some who might not get power back for several days sought warmth - or at least somewhere to recharge their batteries - in shopping malls, public libraries and hastily established shelters.
Nearly a half-million customers were without electricity on Thursday (local time), the vast majority of them in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said after an aerial survey of the storm's aftermath that crews put a priority on restoring electricity to hospitals and nursing homes, and to communications facilities and sewer plants.
"This storm is in some respects as bad or maybe even worse than Hurricane Sandy," he said during an appearance in the Philadelphia suburbs. He said a shipment of electrical generators from the federal government was on its way to Pennsylvania.
PECO, the dominant electricity provider in the Philadelphia area, had the most outages with 395,000. PECO spokeswoman Debra Yemenijian most would have their lights back on by Friday night, but she said some could be without power until Sunday.
About 200 people took advantage of seven shelters in three suburban Philadelphia counties, according to the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Shelters also were open in central Pennsylvania.
The US Northeast's second winter storm of the week dumped more than 30 centimetres of snow in some places on Wednesday, forcing schools, businesses and government offices to close, snarling air travel and sending cars and trucks sliding on slippery roads and highways - an all-too-familiar litany of misery in a winter where the storms seem to be tripping over each other.
What made this one stand out was the thick coating of ice it left on trees and power lines.
"Many of them already had a coating of snow on them," said Mark Durbin, a spokesman for the utility FirstEnergy. "It's that weight that crushes our equipment. Multiply that by hundreds of locations."
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission said late Thursday afternoon that about 414,000 customers remained without power, down by several hundred thousand from Wednesday and falling over the course of the day. After PECO, FirstEnergy had about 42,000 outages in central Pennsylvania and PPL had 14,000 in eastern Pennsylvania. Some 53,000 Maryland power customers were in the dark.
Officials pleaded with people not to use generators or gas grills indoors after 20 to 25 people in the Philadelphia area were taken to hospitals with carbon monoxide poisoning.
Several hospitals were running on backup generators. Most decided to cancel elective surgeries and out-patient testing.