PADUCAH, Ky. - Storm-battered residents of several states hunkered down in frigid homes and shelters Thursday, expecting to spend at least a week without power and waiting in long lines to buy generators, firewood, groceries and bottled water.
Utility companies in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, Arkansas and West Virginia warned that the estimated 1.3 million people left in the dark by an ice storm wouldn't have power back before Saturday at the earliest, and at worst, as late as mid-February.
Already, the situation was becoming dire for some communities in Kentucky, where the power outages crippled pumping stations and cut off access to water.
Tracie and Jeff Augustinovich drove 15 miles from their home in the western Kentucky town of Rock Castle to buy groceries. Their home had very little running water, and though they stocked up before the storm, they weren't sure their supplies will last.
"We're buying up anything that we can eat cold," Tracie Augustinovich said.
In Paducah, Amber Fiers and her neighbor Miranda Brittan tried a half-dozen filling stations before finding one where they could buy kerosene. The two were in a line that swelled to 50 or more at the 13th Street Station, which began pumping kerosene after its owner set up a generator.
"We got food, but I'm just worried about staying warm," said, Brittan who lives in Mayfield, adding she was frustrated by the search for supplies.
"By the time you hear about a place that's open, they're out when you get there," she said.
Utility crews found themselves up against roads blocked by ice-caked power lines, downed trees and other debris. Help from around the country was arriving in convoys to assist the states with the worst outages. But with so many homes and businesses in the dark - there were more than 600,000 across Kentucky alone - the effort is still expected to take days, if not weeks.
At a mall turned into a staging area in Barboursville, W.Va., crews in hard hats met alongside piles of poles, generators, wire and other supplies to find out where to go first.
"We're attacking it head on," said Appalachian Power spokes- man Phil Moye. "As long as the ice is still on the trees, the storm is still here."
St. Louis-based AmerenUE said it had added 800 workers to its efforts to restore power in southeast Missouri, and another 800 were expected today.
"As we restore some, we're losing others. The ice is just so treacherous," said utility spokeswoman Susan Gallagher.
Federal officials are hauling truckloads of water, ready-to-eat meals and large generators to a staging area at Fort Campbell in southwestern Kentucky, said Mary Hudak, a spokeswoman for FEMA's southeast region. The supplies are expected to arrive Friday.
Hundreds of shelters opened their doors, and deputies in some communities went door to door to let people know where they were. Because phone service and Internet connections are spotty in many places, there wasn't another way.
In Harrodsburg, Ky., where phone service was restored, residents were asked to call 911 if they needed transport to shelters, said John Trisler, the county's judge executive.
In Caruthersville, Mo., near the Tennessee border, church leaders and other volunteers knocked on the doors of the elderly and handicapped residents to make sure they were all right. A generator was in use to distribute some water in town, but Fire Chief Charlie Jones had concerns about what would happen when the temporary measure ran out.
"We're definitely worried about the community with no power, no water. Restaurants aren't open and there are no (open) fueling stations," he said.
In central Kentucky's Radcliff, John and Elsie Grimes lost power Monday night and needed police help to get out of their trailer and to a shelter Thursday morning set up by the local NAACP.
Since the storm began Monday, the weather has been blamed for at least 27 deaths, including six in Texas, four in Arkansas, three in Virginia, six in Missouri, two in Oklahoma, two in Indiana, two in West Virginia and one each in Ohio and Kentucky. Emergency officials feared that toll could rise if people stay in their homes without power for too long, because improper use of generators can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Some decided to tough it out anyway. As icicles began to melt from the electrical wires and crashed to the ground Thursday, Jimmy Eason of Velvet Ridge, Ark., carefully walked across his yard to his Ford F-150, which was warmer than his one-story, white house.
"I'm sleeping in a car, which is just fine," Eason, 74, said. "There's nothing wrong with a car. Every couple of hours I turn it on, I let it run for 10 minutes and that keeps it pretty warm."
Eason was trying to avoid boredom, and drove to Burger King to get a meal because he was tired of eating cold soup. "It's kind of a chore to occupy your mind. I'm used to doing things and keeping busy. You just have to endure a couple of days and it will be all right," he said.