50,000 still without power in Pennsylvania after last week's storm

50,000 still without power in Pennsylvania after last week's storm
A utility worker tries to restore power in Downingtown, Pa. As of Sunday, at least 50,000 Pennsylvania power customers remained without electricity after a Wednesday morning storm. (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

Tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians began a fifth day without power Sunday as emergency crews worked through freezing temperatures to clear debris and downed power lines from roads.

Also Sunday, a tour bus crashed in rural southern Pennsylvania, sending 27 people to hospitals in Pennsylvania and Maryland, a Bedford County emergency dispatcher told the Los Angeles Times.


It was unknown whether there were fatalities. Twelve people were taken to a "safety area" to be picked up by the tour bus company, said the dispatcher, who said he was not authorized to identify himself or the company. A representative for the Pennsylvania State Police declined to comment.

The lingering danger of Wednesday's storm was felt the worst in Chester County, just west of Philadelphia, where county emergency officials estimated that 50,000 to 60,000 people still had no electricity.

Thirty Chester County residents have been hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning from trying to stay warm in their homes since the storm hit, one county emergency official told the Los Angeles Times.

"Unfortunately, there are some people that are being desperate and doing dangerous things like having a charcoal or gas grill in their homes, using their generators inside," Robert Kagel, the deputy director for the county's emergency management, told The Times. "One guy took a Duraflame log and lit it on fire on his kitchen table."

PECO, a Pennsylvania power provider, said the aftermath of Wednesday's storm was the second-worst the company has seen after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc across the Northeast in the fall of 2012. Power may not be fully restored until the end of this week.

Pennsylvania's troubles began with a cocktail of two weather events early last week. On Monday, several inches of heavy, wet snow fell across the state, and then early Wednesday morning, a freezing rain encased that snow in ice.

Tree branches could not handle the weight of the snow and the ice, collapsing on roads and power lines.

At one point, more than 600,000 PECO customers were without power; that figure had fallen to a little more than 50,000 as of Sunday, according to the utility's website.

"Basically we've restored power to 93% of the customers affected by the  storm," Fred Maher, a PECO spokesman, told The Times. "They're coming down at a pace. It's a good pace, but we'd like it better. ... We've had some restoration times where it's, 'OK, we'll think we'll get everybody online tonight at 11,' " and then workers find out there's more work to be done.

The company has amassed 6,100 employees, contractors and utility workers from other states to help with the recovery effort, but they've been hampered by "bone-numbing" cold, Maher said. Sunday's high reached 27 degrees, with a low predicted of 18.

In Chester County, officials were still struggling to reopen all the roads,   with 140 still closed, down from about 450 when things were at their worst and the county's drivers were blocked from getting where they needed to go.

"The challenge with a lot of it is that there's utility lines tangled up in it," Chester County's Kagel said of the road debris. He said sometimes emergency workers would have to wait for PECO crews to make sure downed power lines weren't an electrocution threat before the roads could be cleared.

Waiting for PECO has become an unfunny game for Pennsylvanians still without power, who have taken to social media to broadcast their outrage over the possibility of waiting until the end of the week -- Valentine's Day -- to see the total return of power everywhere.

[For the record, 4:40 p.m. Feb. 9: An earlier version of this post said Chester County is east of Philadelphia. Actually, Chester County is west of Philadelphia.]