By KELLY P. KISSEL
(LITTLE ROCK, Ark., AP) — As a the muted ends of a powerful winter storm that has killed more than a dozen people plodded through the Northeast, many in Arkansas sought warmth and shelter against the cold prospect of life without electricity into the new year.
A Christmas Day blizzard dumped more than 15 inches of snow on the state, causing widespread damage to power lines and cutting electricity to more than 260,000 customers.
With the bleak word from the state’s largest utility that the lights could be out until after the start of the new year, many residents who awoke snowbound on Wednesday were jamming the city’s hotel rooms by Thursday night. Only about half of the outages had been fixed by Friday morning.
“I’m coping with hot toddies and peanuts,” said Lynda Johnson, who lined up a series of hotel stays through hotels.com to make it at least through Saturday night. She has already been to the movies — she saw “Django Unchained” — and checked in with neighbors multiple times to see if the lights were back on. They weren’t.
Deena Brazell spent a night in her car for warmth, although she hadn’t planned it that way.
“Everything in the apartment is electric. I stayed in the apartment the first night. After that, it got cold really quick,” she said. “I went out to charge the phone and fell asleep, then I just decided to stay.”
After the storm’s peak early Wednesday, homes and businesses from border-to-border had lost power. Johnson, and several other people, said they were hoping the power would be back on Wednesday after spending Christmas night in the dark. Then the president of the state’s largest utility announced that some of the outages would persist to New Year’s Day or beyond. Little Rock was among the cities hardest hit.
“We spent the first night at home and turned on the fireplace, but it doesn’t give off a lot of heat,” said Kathy Garner, who sought refuge at her sister and brother-in-law’s house in Maumelle, a Little Rock suburb.
In a typical year, tornadoes bring Arkansas’ worst weather, but the damage is isolated and linemen have a relatively easy time fixing the power grid.
This week’s storm was epic by comparison, and despite the jokes — “In Wisconsin, we call this Tuesday” — as of Thursday night there was more snow on the ground in Little Rock than Milwaukee.
“You run out of money fast,” Johnson said. “The things you had planned to do, you can’t do. You need food, clothing and shelter. Since I’m not home, I have to find someplace for shelter. Then you have to find something to eat.”
The storm system responsible for the misery roared out of the Rockies early Tuesday with blizzard conditions in southwestern Oklahoma and tornadoes along the Gulf Coast.
After sweeping across Arkansas, giving Little Rock its first white Christmas since 1926, it rolled into the Midwest and Northeast before moving on to Canada. Up to 20 inches of snow fell in the Adirondacks of New York, and 7.5 inches fell in Indianapolis, which was its greatest snowfall in four years. Concord, N.H., got 4-6 inches of snow.
“I’m going to be shoveling all day, just trying to keep up with the snow, which is impossible,” said Dale Lamprey, clearing the sidewalk outside the legislative office building near the New Hampshire Statehouse.
Nationwide, at least 17 people died because of the ice, snow and wind. Deaths from wind-toppled trees also were reported in Texas and Louisiana, but car crashes caused most of the fatalities.
A Michigan woman who was riding in a car that struck a tree and two people riding in a car that slid across the center line of a road in Arkansas and hit another vehicle.
Two people were killed in Kentucky crashes, a New York man was killed after his pickup truck skidded on an icy road in northwest Pennsylvania, and an Ohio teenager died after losing control of her car and smashing into an oncoming snowplow.
Forty-two students traveling to London and Dublin were stuck in the Nashville, Tenn., airport thanks to poor weather in the Northeast. The frustrated students, from universities in Tennessee and Kentucky, were supposed to leave Wednesday and arrive in London on Thursday.
“It’s a two-week program, so it’s shortened already,” said Joe Woolley, spokesman for the Cooperative Center for Study Abroad.
Farther east, the storm knocked out power to more than 7,000 homes and businesses in Maryland. In New Jersey, gusts of more than 70 mph were recorded along the coast, and the weather service issued a flood warning for some coastal areas. There were about 800 power outages in Vermont, but only a handful in neighboring New Hampshire.
Back in Arkansas, utility workers struggling in freezing temperatures restored power to nearly a third of their customers that lost power during the Christmas storm, but that still meant that more than 130,000 homes and businesses were in the dark as a smaller batch of freezing rain and snow raked the state Friday.
“You just want to be home,” Garner said at her sister’s house. “You just want to be in your own bed. There’s nothing like the comfort of your own home.”
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz in New York; Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H.; Chuck Bartels in Little Rock; Travis Loller in Nashville; Ben Nuckols in Washington; Dave Porter in Newark, N.J.; Dave Gram in Montpelier, Vt.; and Janet McMillan in Philadelphia.