HARRISBURG, Pa. - Hundreds of thousands of people spent a second day without electricity Thursday as utility crews from as far away as Canada and Arkansas scrambled to restore power lost when ice took down trees and limbs in the mid-Atlantic. Forecasters said a bone-chilling cold would remain in place for days.
Nearly a half-million customers lacked power in Pennsylvania and Maryland. In Pennsylvania, where most of the outages were located, 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.
One cafe in downtown Pottstown gave about 15 free meals to people without power, encouraged them to plug in devices and even let a few get a warm shower.
"It's just kind of giving back to the community - there's no other purpose of this," said iCreate Cafe owner Ashraf Khalil.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said after an aerial survey of the storm's aftermath that crews put a priority on restoring electricity to hospitals, nursing homes, 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.
He said he was urging electric utilities "to move as fast as they can, but they have to do it within the parameters of safety."
PECO, the dominant electricity provider in the Philadelphia area, had the most outages with 394,000. PECO spokeswoman Debra Yemenijian said most would have their lights back on by Friday night, but she said some could be without power until Sunday.
At the Upper Dublin Public Library in Fort Washington, reference librarian Marty Frantz was directing people to power outlets and helping them get online Thursday after spending the previous night in a dark house.
Frantz and her husband had dinner with their son - he had power - and then went home, got out the flashlights and went to bed.
"We snuggled under quilts," Frantz said. "The temperature when we went to bed was 55. It was 50 when we got up this morning."
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 Northeast's second winter storm of the week dumped more than a foot 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. It also left a thick coating of ice it left on trees and power lines.