High winds delay restoring northern Indiana power

INDIANA - High winds hampered efforts to restore electricity to thousands of homes across ice-coated northern Indiana as temperatures fell below zero in the area.

More than 70,000 homes and businesses remained without power, making it the fourth day without electricity for most them following the ice storm that hit late December 18, utility officials said.

Some 53,000 outages were reported in and around Fort Wayne, with other widespread outages reported in the Gary, Valparaiso, Goshen and Bremen areas. Crews faced wind gusts topping 30 mph throughout the day that made repair work more difficult.

"This has hindered our ability to restore customers to power and has also created new, widespread outages," said Mike Charbonneau, a spokesman for Northern Indiana Public Service Co.

The biggest troubles were faced in Fort Wayne, where Indiana Michigan Power Co. said it could be Christmas Eve before all electricity was restored.

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry urged those without heat to consider going to shelters available at Memorial Coliseum and South Side High School, and city officials also warned residents about the dangers of using fireplaces as heat sources.

Firefighters were called to a house where a fireplace had been in use for two days and flames burned through cracks in mortar joints and ignited wood studs.

"If your fireplace was not designed as a primary heat source, don't use it as such," Fire Chief Pete Kelly said. "We want people to be warm, but they need to use alternate heat sources safely."

Pattie Udstuen of Bremen had her home's lights flickering on and off after waking up without electricity in the town about 20 miles south of South Bend.

"I think it's the conditions, with the trees and ice," she said. "They're just covered in our yard and weighted down, or branches are down because of the wind and eight of the ice. You don't like it, but there's not much people can do."


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