Restoring power in Northeast could take days

Residents across the Northeast faced the prospect of days without electricity or heat Monday after an early-season storm dumped as much as 30 inches of wet, heavy snow that snapped trees and power lines, closed hundreds of schools, and disrupted plans for Halloween trick-or-treating.

The early nor'easter had utility companies struggling to restore electricity to more than 3 million homes and businesses. By early Monday, the number without power was still above 2 million but falling. But officials in some states warned it could be days or even a week before residents have power again.

Roads were closed, shelters were opened, and regional transit was suspended or delayed. But the storm's lingering effects - including power failures and hundreds of closed schools - will probably outlast the snow. Temperatures are expected to begin rising Monday and the snow will start melting, the National Weather Service said.

The snowstorm was blamed for at least 12 deaths, mostly caused by falling trees, traffic accidents or electrocutions. Six people died in Pennsylvania alone.

Motorists wait in line for gas at a rest area on the Massachusetts Turnpike eastbound in Charlton, Mass., Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011.
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Trees, branches and power lines still littered roads and rail lines, leading to a tough Monday morning commute for many. Motorists hunted for open gas stations as power failures rendered pumps inoperable.

At a 7-Eleven in Hartford, two dozen cars waited early Monday in a line that stretched into the street and disrupted traffic.

"There's no gas anywhere," said Debra Palmisano, of Plainville, who spent most of the morning looking around the capital city. "It's like we're in a war zone. It's pretty scary, actually."

Some local officials canceled or postponed Halloween activities, fearful that young trick-or-treaters could wander into areas with downed power lines or trees ready to topple over.

"With so many wires down ... the sidewalks will not be safe for pedestrians (Monday) night," Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton told The Hartford Courant.

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Communities in western Massachusetts were among the hardest hit by the snowstorm that smashed snowfall records for October. Total snowfall topped 27 inches in Plainfield, and nearby Windsor got 26 inches.

In New Hampshire's capital of Concord, more than 22 inches fell, weeks ahead of the usual first measurable snowfall. States of emergency were declared in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and parts of New York.

West Milford, N.J., about 45 miles northwest of New York City, had 19 inches Sunday. Gov. Chris Christie declared statewide damage to utilities worse than that wrought by Hurricane Irene, a deadly storm that blew through the state in August.

Things were similar in Connecticut, where the power loss of 800,000 broke a record set by Irene. By early Monday, around 400,000 people lacked power in New Jersey and more than 750,000 in Connecticut.

A worker from Connecticut Light & Power inspects a downed power line on Route 5 in South Windsor, Conn., Monday, Oct. 31, 2011.
AP Photo/Jessica Hill

Compounding the storm's impact were unfallen leaves, which gave the snow something extra to hang onto and loaded branches with tremendous weight, snapping them off and sending them plunging onto power lines and across roads and homes.

"Look at this, look at all the damage," said Jennifer Burckson, 49, after she came outside Sunday morning in South Windsor to find that a massive branch had smashed her car's back windshield. Branches on trees that didn't break were weighed down so much that their leaves brushed snow on the ground.