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Rescuers Look for Trapped Families

January 12, 1998

National Guardsmen flew over rural areas of the Northeast Sunday looking for families isolated without power or food since last week’s ice storm, and temperatures threatened to drop below zero during the night.

Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses still had no electricity across northern sections of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

``I’m a little worried that we’re moving into the time when people are starting to lose patience,″ said Maine Gov. Angus King. ``Even though it’s sunny now, it isn’t over.″

``Tonight is the night that we’ve really got to look after one another,″ King said.

New Hampshire alone had more than 500 utility line crews from as far away as Delaware busy cutting through downed trees to get at broken utility poles and drooping lines. They were helped by National Guardsmen.

``In one area, in order to connect just two customers, we had to restore about two miles of wires and several poles,″ said Martin Murray, spokesman for Public Service Co. of New Hampshire. ``It’s very time-consuming and tedious.″

Last week’s huge storm caused floods across the South and spread thick, clinging ice across the Northeast and the eastern third of Canada. Eleven deaths were blamed on the storm in Canada, plus two in Maine and one in New York. Seven deaths were counted in Tennessee flooding plus two in North Carolina and one in South Carolina.

Guard helicopters were sent flying across a 7,000-square-mile area of northern New York to search for people isolated and in their fourth day without electricity.

By midday, the helicopter crews had rescued 16 people.

As people were urged to go to public shelters because of the below-zero temperatures forecast by Monday morning, hospitals in some areas treated people for exposure to carbon monoxide gas produced by home generators, charcoal grills and propane heaters.

``People are very proud in Maine and they would rather ride it out in their own home than go to a shelter,″ said Paul Halvachs, a nursing supervisor at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, Maine.

Two Maine residents died of carbon monoxide while operating generators in their basements without ventilation.

William and Doris Belanger were relying on a kerosene heater in the kitchen of their home at Auburn, Maine.

``We manage. There’s no water, no heat, no electricity. Nothing. So you get along with what you got,″ said Mrs. Belanger, 73.

She said her husband went out to survey the broken tree limbs and power lines littering streets in their neighborhood. ``After that, he told me `We ain’t never getting power back,‴ she said.

Utilities estimated 230,000 homes and businesses still had no electricity Sunday in Maine, with 24,500 blacked out in New Hampshire and 9,600 in Vermont. New York utilities estimated about 500,000 people were without power.

Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. said it could be four weeks before it restores service to everyone.

Three truck-sized portable generators had been hooked up in Clinton County, N.Y., to run farmers’ automated milking systems. Dairy cows that aren’t milked for days at a time can become sick and die.

Even with the generators, the farmers had to dump the milk, because county roads were still impassable to dairy trucks.

``The farmers are having to dump their milk on the ground and are losing thousands of dollars,″ said Bill Bingel, Clinton County administrator.

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