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'Mangled mess of trees and power lines'

Some may not get power restored until Sunday

Tim Higley clears snow from Main Street in Plymouth, Connecticut.

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CNN's David Mattingly reports on the aftermath of the winter storm that swept the East and parts of the South (December 5)
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An ice and snow storm brings its wintry ways to North Carolina. CNN's Eric Philips reports (December 4)
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• Storm warnings and hazardous weather alerts: National Weather Service external link

RALEIGH, North Carolina (CNN) -- More than 1.5 million people in the Carolinas remained without power late Thursday after a winter storm swept through the region, leaving behind a sheen of ice and a "mangled mess of trees and power lines."

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley declared a state of emergency, and authorities said the outages would likely continue through the weekend as thousands of utility crews work to restore power.

The outages were comparable to those caused by the most notorious hurricanes in the state's history: Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Fran in 1996. One emergency official called the winter storm "Fran with ice."

Authorities warned that conditions could worsen overnight as temperatures dip into the 20s and the wind picks up, making already fragile trees and power lines even more vulnerable. Forecasters predicted winds of 10-15 mph, with gusts of more than 20 mph.

"There could be a lot more tree limbs snapping down," said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "The wind is not going to make it any easier."

The storm left ice across Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and into Kentucky, before moving up the East Coast where 6-8 inches of snow was dumped on Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. The storm was expected to taper off and move out to sea overnight.

At least 12 people were killed in the storm, primarily in traffic-related accidents. Six people were killed in Kentucky, four in North Carolina and two in Arkansas.

'Trying to bring some order to mess'

The magnitude of the ice storm in the Carolinas even surprised forecasters. A half inch to an inch of ice covered most of central North Carolina.

"The ice was definitely abnormal," Oravec said.

Duke Power reported 1.2 million people without power and the other main electric company, Carolina Power & Light, said roughly 350,000 of their customers had no electricity. (Coping with the cold)

More than 5,400 crews have been dispatched by the companies to clear the debris and get power back. Another 2,000 crews, from eight states as far away as Louisiana and Michigan, were en route.

"It is a mangled mess of trees and power lines," said Mike Hughes, a spokesman for CP&L. "It's unbelievable."

Trees were down most everywhere in the central part of North Carolina, and thousands more were coated in ice, threatening more power lines. Hughes said the wind gusts "are really gonna compound the situation" and that the wind was even endangering work crews.

"You can hear tree limbs cracking and all of a sudden you look up, and there's a 500-pound limb falling," Hughes said. "It is a mess, and we're trying to bring some order to the mess."

But he said power most likely not be restored to all areas until at least Sunday.

E.O. Ferrell, a senior vice president with Duke Power, said, "We've never seen this much damage affecting our entire system."

Twenty-five shelters have opened in 16 different North Carolina counties.

Gov. Easley said roads remained dangerous and most traffic lights were out due to the power shortages.

"It will continue to be dangerous on our streets and highways. People should stay off the roadways until conditions improve," the governor said.

In the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill "Triangle" area, where several major universities are located, more than 340,000 people were without power, including campuses.

At the University of North Carolina, students were braving the weather with final exams set to begin Friday. The campus had electricity going on and off all day.

"We have widespread power outages. We have trees down everywhere," said Cory Taylor, a UNC police dispatcher.

Exams will go forward as scheduled Friday.

Officials at nearby Duke and North Carolina State were dealing with similar conditions.

N.C. State late Thursday reported two dorms and a couple research facilities without power. "We have loads and loads of trees down," said Sgt. Jeff Sutton with the campus police.

The storm moved up the East Coast throughout the day Thursday, causing delays at airports throughout the region. But by day's end, most of the major airports were running close to normal, and the storm had left a blanket of white snow, from Boston to the nation's capital.

In Connecticut, one emergency official said the situation was under control: "It's southern New England. It's winter. It's snowing."

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