A storm packing high winds ravaged the central United States with snow and ice Wednesday, closing roads and knocking out power to thousands of homes and businesses.
Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh activated the National Guard in 16 hard-hit northern Indiana counties and ordered Guard armories opened to people whose homes were without power.
“This is the worst storm our system has seen in recent years . . . . We have suffered extensive damage to our system,” said Joseph Messick, senior vice president of PSI Energy, the largest utility in Indiana.
“It could be a week or more before our most isolated customers are back in power,” he said. “It will take three or four months to repair our system completely. Preliminary damage estimates could top $10 million.”
PSI Energy estimated that more than 100,000 of its customers in north-central Indiana were without power. An additional 13,000 customers served by Northern Indiana Public Service also were blacked out.
The storm dumped nearly a foot of wind-whipped snow as it roared through the Midwest on a route that took it as far east as southern Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.
Eleven inches of snow blanketed Dubuque, Iowa, and snowfalls of up to 10 inches were common from Moline in western Illinois to northwestern Indiana.
Illinois utility spokesmen said drifts of eight to 10 feet were blocking repair crews. Drifts were three to four feet deep in northwest Indiana, and an inch of ice encased six inches of snow in Alexandria, Ind., the National Weather Service reported.
Power company executives said there was a domino effect as one pole fell and brought down another. One reporter counted 28 consecutive poles down on a mile of road near Frankfort, Ind.
More than 55,000 people were without electricity in northern Illinois, where freezing rain created a four-inch buildup of ice in some areas. Winds reaching 45 m.p.h. and hail also were reported.
Illinois snowfall amounts included eight to 10 inches in Joliet, eight inches in Geneva and four in Elgin.
Bill Harrah, a Commonwealth Edison spokesman, said it could be two days before all electricity is restored to an area running south from Joliet to Kankakee and east to Streator because of “massive damage” to power lines.
Part of Interstate 35 south of Minneapolis was closed overnight because of the weather. More than 45 motorists were stranded.
Authorities said at least three people were killed Tuesday in weather-related traffic accidents, one each in Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana.