Ice-laden tree limbs falling on power lines left millions of people in the Carolinas without electricity for lights and heat Thursday.

Elise and David Strevel hung blankets over their doorways for insulation against near-freezing temperatures and left a pot of water boiling on their gas stove for heat.

For entertainment, they left their darkened house to go window-shopping.

"I feel sorry for people more out of town," said Elise Strevel.

She might have been talking about Debbie Barkley and her 4-year-old daughter, Dana, who live just outside Charlotte. She had no power to pump water from her well and insufficient ventilation to allow safe use of her kerosene heat, so they went to a shelter.

"We just felt a little stranded," Barkley said.

The weather was warmer in Durham, with temperatures around 50, but Matt and Dawn Heric had been without heat since the electricity went off late Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, none of the fireplaces are serviceable," Matt Heric, 39, said of their 90-year-old house.

The sound of breaking limbs and trees was common throughout much of North Carolina as the storm pummeled the state. Even after the ice and sleet changed to rain, branches continued cracking under the weight of accumulated ice.

North Carolina State University in Raleigh closed for the day, and junior Michael Kirk and his three roommates played pingpong and stayed near the fireplace in their off-campus apartment.

"It would be cold as hell without that fireplace," Kirk said.

Jill Brehm her husband bought flashlights and extra firewood to help them cope at their home in south Charlotte.

"You just go to the YMCA to take your showers and farm out the kids and just do what you have to do," said Brehm, who has three children.

She planned to try to stay in her unheated home overnight. "I wonder if there's any hotel rooms if I need one," she said.

In the same neighborhood, Tom Rose, 55, was grateful that he and his wife, Carol, had installed gas heat after Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989. But he worried that his wife's oxygen machine would run low and he was trying to find a larger tank.

"It's kind of like going back to being a Boy Scout," he said as he took his cell phone to his car to charge it.

About 200 people went to a downtown Charlotte school opened just for nursing home residents and people with medical issues.

"It's nice. You can appreciate it when you've been in a cold place," 76-year-old Fannie Mae Daniels said of the school.

Charlotte also opened its convention center and coliseum to allow residents to sleep in warmth, although they had to bring their own sleeping bags.

But in spite of the damage, David Strevel said the storm and its aftermath couldn't compare to what he experienced while growing up in Michigan.

"It's so nice and warm here," he said.