HARTFORD, Conn. – Frustrations grew Wednesday as more than a million Northeastern homes and businesses went a fourth day without power after a freak weekend snowstorm, with many schoolchildren again staying home and some residents languishing in shelters that provided heat and meals.
Connecticut, the hardest-hit state, still had more than half-million customers without power by the afternoon, down from a peak of more than 800,000. Huge swaths of the state had also lost power for days to the remnants of Hurricane Irene in August, and residents were growing restless.
Ada Lachelier, 76, a retiree who sought warmth at the Conard High School shelter in West Hartford, said she would like to rally other customers of Connecticut Light & Power, the state's largest utility, to skip payment on their next two bills in protest of the delays.
"They'd finally listen if everyone said, 'Hey, the next bill is on you, CL&P, because you didn't come through when you should have,'" she said.
Lachelier and her friend, Janet Conley, have been spending their days at the shelter or at downtown businesses that have power. Each night, they return home to feed pets, check on their houses and bundle up for a chilly night's sleep.
"I thought things would be better after Irene, but all they did was have meetings about it, as far as I can tell," said Conley, a yoga teacher from West Hartford. "It didn't seem to make a bit of difference this time."
Jeff Butler, president of CL&P, said that the company understands people's frustrations and that the company was on track to fix 99 percent of the remaining power failures by Sunday — a full week after the storm.
Classes were canceled in many areas for a third day, including a dozen districts in northern New Jersey. Some districts worried they'd use all their anticipated snow days even before the start of winter.
The state still had 180,000 homes and businesses without power — a far cry from the 700,000 in the dark during the height of the storm Saturday. Crews reported progress elsewhere, too. Maryland utilities reported scattered outages — a total of about 300, down from more than 40,000.
More than 3 million people lost power from Maryland to Maine as leaves that had yet to drop captured wet, heavy snow — from about an inch to more than 30 in spots — and snapped branches and trees that took down power lines. The storm has been blamed for more than 25 deaths, most through traffic accidents, falling trees or electrocutions from downed power lines.
In Massachusetts, where more than 200,000 remained without power as of Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Deval Patrick told reporters he understood the frustration residents were feeling.
"People are losing their patience, and so am I, frankly," he said. "And the utilities are just going to have to step it up."
Patrick, who had been generally supportive of the utilities' efforts in the aftermath of the storm, acknowledged that crews have been working around the clock.
While utility companies took some positive steps to improve communication with customers after criticism from the power failures caused by Irene, "we're still hearing complaints that folks can't get adequate or timely information."
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency reported that more than 1,700 residents spent Tuesday night at 74 shelters around the state, a slight drop from the previous night.
Police in Hudson, N.H., urged residents to chain and padlock generators to a tree or something heavy after three were reported stolen in the area, including one that was taken as it powered a business, leading to a police chase.
Connecticut expected 110 extra line crews to arrive and restore power to 150,000 more homes and businesses by Thursday morning.
Butler discounted reports that out-of-state crews were slow to come to Connecticut because some hadn't been paid yet for helping in the aftermath of Irene. He said invoices of three companies were at issue. Two of the companies were paid Monday and the third was paid Wednesday morning, he said.
Elin Swanson Katz, the state's consumer counsel, said questions about any late payments are of interest to her office, which advocates for electric ratepayers. "If that's true," she said, "that's certainly an issue of concern for us and that's certainly one we will explore."
Butler also repeated previous statements that the snowstorm was much worse than what was forecast and that Connecticut Light & Power did request out-of-state crews before the storm hit.
A federal Department of Energy Department official had said Tuesday that extra crews were not in place or ready to work in Connecticut before the snowstorm like they were before Irene, because utility officials had much less time to prepare.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy later said that "there's going to be a lot of time to examine the behavior of organizations we rely on," but his top priorities are now getting power restored and keeping people safe. State officials have already begun looking at CL&P's response after Irene, which left 730,000 customers in the dark.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Susan Haigh in Hartford, Stephanie Reitz in West Hartford and Bob Salsberg in Boston.