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Utilities chip away at ice storm power outages, say some Pa. customers may have to wait days

An ice covered tree and utility lines block a roadway Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Exton, Pa. Utility crews in Pennsylvania are still trying to restore power to more than 320,000 customers who remain without power two days after an ice storm downed trees and power lines. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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An ice covered tree and utility lines block a roadway Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Exton, Pa. Utility crews in Pennsylvania are still trying to restore power to more than 320,000 customers who remain without power two days after an ice storm downed trees and power lines. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PHILADELPHIA - A small army of electricity restoration crews laboured Friday to reconnect about 330,000 customers in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and utility companies predicted most would have their power back within hours.

The biggest portion remained in the Philadelphia suburbs, where many schools were closed for a third day, and a utility company warned that tens of thousands of their customers may have to wait days more.

"Based on the damage that we're seeing, we believe there could be some of the most extensive jobs that we're working on that we would be working on beyond the weekend and into the very early part of next week," PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez said at midday Friday.

Severe cold weather that gripped the mid-Atlantic on Friday was expected to remain in place for days, and forecasters said light snow was possible over the weekend.

Utility companies reported more than 320,000 customers without power in Pennsylvania — more than 286,000 of them in the five-county Philadelphia area. In Maryland, service has been restored to all but about 22,000 homes and businesses.

There has been progress — more than a million total outages had been attributed to the storm.

Systems engineer John Bowman said he has been buying $6 packages of firewood at a neighbourhood hardware store, planning to burn them in the coming days to keep the temperature in his Downingtown home high enough to prevent damage to water pipes. He said he was told it may be Sunday before his power is restored.

"With the way the sun's been warming up the house, I don't want to use those rations yet," Bowman said.

Rachel Ezekiel Fishbein of Elkins Park lost power before dawn Wednesday, a day after she spent about $300 on groceries in anticipation of the storm. Although she tried to save some perishables by packing them outside in a cooler in the snow, she wasn't optimistic on Friday morning.

"I'm thinking that most of that food has probably gone bad by now," Fishbein said from her sister-in-law's house.

Authorities urged people to be careful when using space heaters and other methods to heat their homes. The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency said four confirmed cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, and a fifth suspected case, were reported at a hospital in the Philadelphia suburbs on Wednesday night.

The Bucks County Courier-Times also reported that one person was taken to a hospital by helicopter and several others were sickened in a carbon monoxide incident Thursday night in the suburban town of Horsham. The paper also reported a fire emergency call Thursday from someone who took his barbecue grill inside for warmth.

Amtrak restored full service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg on Friday morning after tracks were cleared of fallen trees and debris.

The storm that generated headaches for motorists and homeowners also created a boom in business for Amspacher Tree Service in York, where the ice coated snowy trees and forced down branches. The company was concentrating on getting trees off of homes and cars, and telling customers their crews will return later to clean it all up.

"We're going pretty crazy," said Louanna Amspacher. "We went from a dozen calls a day, at most, to a hundred calls."

___

AP writer Kathy Matheson contributed to this report. Scolforo reported from Harrisburg.

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