JAFFREY, N.H. - Joined by people seeking shelter from the bitter cold, parishioners at the Jaffrey Bible Church yesterday thanked God for a warm place to sleep and for the utility crews struggling to repair power lines snapped by New England's devastating ice storm.
"Your fellow Jaffrey residents have stepped up and made this a more bearable situation," Walt Pryor, recreation department director for the town of 5,700, told the congregation yesterday morning.
Church administrator Rick Needham noted the "terrible devastation in our lives and homes," recognizing two families whose homes were damaged by falling trees. About 150 people attended the Sunday service in Jaffrey, about 15 miles from the Massachusetts state line.
The church had been turned into a shelter, with cots and mattresses set up in offices and hallways, and televisions and 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles for children in the basement. Donated food was plentiful, including lobster casserole, pot roast and barbecued chicken.
The ice storm knocked out electrical service to 1.4 million homes and businesses late last week. More than 570,000 customers still lacked power yesterday afternoon in upstate New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. Utilities in hardest-hit New Hampshire said power might not be totally restored to the region until Thursday or Friday.
Officials warned power failures could rise again as drooping branches shed ice and snap back to their original positions, potentially taking out more power lines.
President Bush declared a state of emergency for New Hampshire and nine of Massachusetts' 14 counties, directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide relief assistance.
Adding to the misery of downed power lines and property damage, temperatures dropped into the teens and 20s early Sunday, with single-digit readings in parts of New Hampshire and Maine. Fryeburg, Maine, hit a low of just 2 degrees above zero. Warmer weather was on the way for today.
The number of people at shelters in Massachusetts nearly doubled to 1,800 Saturday night as people faced another night without lights and heat. Nearly 1,300 people stayed at 56 shelters in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York and Maine declared either limited or full states of emergency Friday. Crews across the region reported ice had destroyed utility poles, wires and equipment.
About 300 national guardsmen were deployed in New Hampshire, mostly in Stoddard, 27 miles north of Jaffrey, to help with debris cleanup.
Despite the difficulties, utilities were making progress with help from utility crews from Canada and as far away as Virginia and Michigan.