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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Christmas is less than merry and far from bright for hundreds of thousands of people. Ice storms have downed power lines from the upper Midwest to the far Northeast and into Canada, leaving households in the cold and dark. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: This is the worst holiday week in the 126-year history of Michigan's largest power company, Consumers Energy. The outages began over the weekend, affecting nearly 350,000 customers. Power has been restored to many, but more than 120,000 remain in the dark. Consumer Energy spokeswoman Deborah Dodd says since the weather has remained frigid, nothing has melted.

DEBORAH DODD: And for every quarter-inch of ice that we get on a line, that equals 500 pounds of pressure on an electric line. So in some places, we've got up to an inch of ice on trees and surfaces, so it's just been horrible working conditions. And today, we are also expecting some winds to pick up, which does not help our efforts at all.

JAFFE: Dodd says there are nearly 3,000 field and office workers pitching in, including workers from 11 other states and the District of Columbia. The ice storms also hit Toronto hard. Nearly 300,000 customers lost power there. At midday today, Toronto Hydro reported just 72,000 still had no electricity.

In Maine, 100,000 customers were without electricity on Tuesday, but 1,800 workers there managed to restore power to about half of them. Maine Central Power spokeswoman Gail Rice says the company hopes to have the lights back on by late Thursday, but the work is difficult.

GAIL RICE: Our line workers have to be extremely careful when they're working on things. And also it's a very painstaking process to have to chip this ice off of the equipment in order to reenergize these circuits.

JAFFE: The ice storm and power outages have been linked to at least 14 deaths. In Maine, a 50-year-old man using a generator to keep warm was overcome by fumes. His death was the second attributed to fumes from a generator. In Michigan, police say two people died in automobile collisions caused by icy roads. In eastern Michigan, the forecast is for snow showers picking up tonight. Power there may not be restored until the weekend. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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