WAYLAND, Mass. —Hundreds of thousands of people across the Northeast shivered at the prospect of days without heat or lights after a freak October snowstorm over the weekend.
The storm was blamed for at least 21 deaths, including one in Canada. Most were caused by falling trees, traffic accidents or electrocutions from downed wires. Eight people died in Pennsylvania alone.
Families huddled under blankets and winter coats at home or waited out the crisis in shelters as utility crews struggled to fix power lines downed by the storm. Hundreds of schools closed, giving youngsters one of the earliest snow days on record, and many towns postponed trick-or-treating.
"Such a small storm but such a big disaster," said Marina Shen, who spent Sunday night with her husband and dog at a middle school in Wayland, a Boston suburb of 13,000 where half the homes lost power. Just a few inches fell in Wayland, and most of it had melted by Monday, but overnight temperatures fell below freezing.
"The house is really, really cold. You cannot do anything. It's so dark, cold," Shen said. "Here they give us a hot shower."
From Maryland to Maine, high winds and wet, heavy snow brought down trees, branches and wires Saturday and Sunday. Snowfall amounts ranged from less than inch in some places to 32 inches in the small town of Peru, Mass., in the Berkshire Mountains.
More than 3 million homes and businesses in the Northeast lost power at the height of the storm. By early Monday night, that number was nearly 1.8 million.
Some of the same areas were hit hard by the rainy remnants of Hurricane Irene just two months ago, but in many places the utility damage was worse this time. The trees had yet to lose their leaves and captured all too much of the snow.
"The leaves on the trees have made whole trees and huge branches come down and taken down more wires," said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "It's a huge challenge for everybody."
Christie said he expected 95 percent of the 375,000 customers in New Jersey without power to have it back by Thursday, though he knew that would be little comfort to people shivering in the dark.
Companies brought in crews from other states to help, but with lights out and live wires down all over the place, many communities urged children to skip trick-or-treating or at least postpone it until later in the week.
In addition to ruining Halloween, the storm was turning into a budget nightmare for cities and towns already dealing the costs of Irene.
"There's no question that most municipal budgets are past bending and into breaking," said William Steinhaus, the top elected of official in Dutchess County, in New York's Hudson Valley, which got nearly 2 feet of snow.
Steinhaus also questioned why the New York Department of Transportation wasn't better prepared for the storm after state police had to help more than 100 drivers who got stuck on Interstate 84 and the Taconic State Parkway early Sunday.