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Cold NY Temps Hamper Storm Recovery

January 15, 1998

Power began to flicker on slowly throughout northern New York, as frigid conditions made relief efforts a struggle.

Single-digit temperatures today were expected to keep the 7,000-square mile disaster area in a tangle of ice-encrusted trees and power lines. The freezing temperatures are expected to last for the next several days.

Many shelters became busy again after residents sought refuge from the sub-zero wind chills that began Tuesday night, a Red Cross spokeswoman said. More than 17,000 people were in shelters Wednesday, according to the State Emergency Management Office.

``Some of those trying to be independent and rely on their own resources maybe are going to have to swallow a little bit of their pride,″ said Brian McDermott, a state trooper in Watertown.

Despite the cold, some 1,400 utility crews were painstakingly restoring power to about 87,000 customers left without light and warmth by last week’s brutal three-day storm.

New York State Electric and Gas Corp. said late Wednesday they had restored power to 3,000 more customers in a three-county area, leaving 20,000 customers without power.

Niagara Mohawk reported that an additional 20,000 of their customers were again with power, with nearly 67,000 still in the dark Wednesday night.

The pace wasn’t quick enough to suit some.

From their mobile home in Sciota, Connie Rabideau and Jerome Favreau can see the massive NYSEG substation just a few feet away. Their power, however, remains off.

``We find that amusing that we’re so close to a substation and we still can’t get power,″ Rabideau said outside their home as she watched crews making repairs.

``I’ve got pounds of meat from the freezer under there,″ Favreau said, pointing to a pile of snow and ice chunks in the back yard. ``It should be all right.″

Ice storm refugees staying at Plattsburgh area shelters could imagine warmer climates as they ate cooking imported from the South.

Members of the Plattsburgh State track team ran around the indoor track, inhaling the aroma of chili con carne and beef stew cooking in giant, stainless-steel pots attended by volunteers from the Virginia Baptist Mission Board Disaster Relief Services. The unit is preparing about 3,000 meals daily from its mobile kitchen stationed there.

For farmers, the situation grew more desperate as hundred of livestock died. Many farmers without generators were unable to milk their cows, which will sicken and die if left too long. Other animals succumbed to the cold.

``Right now the largest crisis is with agriculture, particularly with dairy herds and with apple farmers,″ Gov. George Pataki said in Albany as he repeated a call for more generators.

In Champlain, the Sears store there has sold more than 1,500 generators since Friday. Another 500 of the power sources exchanged hands at an old Dairy Queen restaurant.

``I spent 13 hours Thursday at Sam’s (Club), and the truck never showed up,″ Jeff Brooks told the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh as he waited at the Dairy Queen. His family of six has been living with neighbors in a small home.

``It’s time to get heat,″ he said.

At least eight people have died in incidents related to the storm, including five from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by heaters or generators in poorly ventilated rooms.

The Samaritan Medical Center emergency room in Watertown has treated approximately 40 people with carbon monoxide poisoning during the past several days, the hospital’s spokesman said.

As the relief efforts drag on, many volunteers must head back to their jobs. Fire Chief Dale Sears had hundreds of ice storm victims in need on Wednesday and only a handful of helpers left.

``They are saying no power for two or three weeks,″ Sears said. ``I don’t know if we can manage to keep it going that long.″

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