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More than half of Durham residents remain without power

The snow and freezing rain had stopped falling and temperatures were climbing out of the freezing range by midday Thursday, but for many Durham residents, the worst had just begun.

Wednesday's ice storm caused massive damage to power lines, leaving over a million North Carolinians without electricity. Durham was hit especially hard--about 95 percent of households were without power right after the storm.

City and county officials responded quickly, providing emergency services and setting up shelters for cold citizens. In addition, Gov. Mike Easley dispatched the North Carolina National Guard Saturday to assist residents in the state's hardest-hit areas. Guardsmen knocked on 1,200 doors in Durham to ensure that residents were okay.

The city and county declared a state of emergency Thursday night-including a driving curfew and a ban on alcohol sales.

The curfew banned citizens from driving between the hours of 5 p.m. Thursday night to 6 a.m. Friday morning and was again in effect Friday and Saturday nights, beginning at 10 p.m.

"We kept it in place because we still felt that people should use extreme caution at night," said said Deborah Craig-Ray, Durham County's public information director.

She added that the curfew was also a crime deterrent. "Without power, many of our businesses don't have their security systems working and don't have normal lighting," she added.

The curfew was lifted Sunday, but power company officials estimated that power would not be fully restored to Durham until midnight Wednesday.

"This is unprecedented," said Ellen Reckhow, chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners. "As I understand, we have never had such a severe power outage in Durham County."

Duke Power spokesperson Tom Shiel said the ice storm was the worst in the company's history. "Normally when you get a storm it has a focal point, a specific area that gets targeted," he said. "But [this storm] hit us equally hard.... The devastation was just enormous."

More than 12,000 workers-including many from out of state-focused efforts on restoring power to vital services, such as police and fire stations, hospitals and water and sewage treatment. The power company then turned to private homes and businesses. As of 11 a.m. Sunday, approximately 33 percent of Durham households had their power restored.

But as citizens scrambled to get warm with alternative heating devices, tragedy struck one Durham household. Epifanio Navarro died of carbon monoxide poisoning after bringing a small charcoal grill into the bedroom he shared with his girlfriend and their baby, the Herald-Sun of Durham reported. Dozens more elsewhere in the city were sickened by toxic fumes.

City and county officials worked to provide services to those still without power. "Our main priority has been health and safety," Reckhow said. "We've been taking a lead role in getting shelters operating to serve people who wanted to take refuge from the cold."

The county operated two shelters Sunday night--one at Jordan High School, offering services to people with special health needs, and another at Hillside High School. Over the weekend, more than 600 people took advantage of the six shelters throughout the city, Craig-Ray said. The number of shelters was scaled back to just two after a decrease in demand, Reckhow said.

Both the power outages and the curfew placed a strain on local businesses.

Elmo's Diner on Ninth Street was forced to close when the power went out at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and did not reopen until 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The outages meant the restaurant missed vital business Saturday morning, but it has been experiencing a surge since opening yesterday.

"As soon as we opened our doors yesterday, we had a full restaurant," manager Lisa Kelly said. "People just magically knew we were open, and we haven't slowed down since."

Durham Public Schools were closed Thursday and Friday, and officials canceled classes for today as well.


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