More Ohio Utility Customers Seeing Light

CINCINNATI (AP) - Facing a fifth day with no power, the elderly residents of a western Ohio living facility had endured enough. They took to the street with foam signs to protest the failure of Dayton Power and Light Co. to get the electricity back on for residents needing oxygen, 911 service and operating elevators.

It was one of many signs Friday that frustrations continued to grow as utility crews worked to restore electricity to the remaining 330,000 homes and businesses left in the dark since the remains of Hurricane Ike blew into Ohio on Sunday.

The toll was down from the approximately 2.6 million who were without power at the peak of the outage in Ohio. Yet some power customers have been losing patience, including a man accused of threatening a utility worker and charged with inducing panic. The man later said he was joking.

Winds reaching 78 mph swept through on Sunday, and at least seven of the 56 deaths blamed on the hurricane were in Ohio. Trees were uprooted, falling on homes, blocking roads and bringing down power lines and poles. Long lines formed at the gas stations, groceries and hardware stores that didn't lose power. Schools and businesses were forced to close for days.

By Friday, many schools had reopened, piles of tree limbs and other debris were being picked up and traffic lights and gas stations were operating again.

About 164,000 homes and businesses in Kentucky, Indiana and Pennsylvania remained without power.

Utility companies say it is too soon to assess costs from the outage or how those costs may affect customers.

While the number of outages kept declining, utilities urged patience as they moved from fixing larger circuits to smaller ones, which often slows the rate of repairs.

"Now we're into situations where maybe if there are only a few homes we have to restore, we may have to set new poles, string new wire or place new transformers," said FirstEnergy Corp. spokesman Mark Durbin. "Those are labor intensive jobs. In some rural locations, trees came crashing down on our equipment."

FirstEnergy reported Friday that it had reduced outages to about 22,000 customers, with about 10,000 in the Cleveland area.

Friday's protest at the Fairwood Village independent living facility in Beavercreek seemed to get a reaction. Within three hours of residents heading to the curb, crews were working to restore power.

Resident Bob Williams, 80, said the utility company had been ignoring the group.

"You would think that based on our abilities, our capabilities, residents here should draw some priority," he told the Dayton Daily News.

A man in the Cincinnati suburb of Reading was arrested Thursday, accused of threatening a worker with a non-lethal gun that he said shoots plastic BBs. The man said he was frustrated after going all week without power.

Some customers had become so impatient by Wednesday that they drove to a Duke Energy dispatch center in Batavia east of Cincinnati. Clermont County Sheriff A.J. Rodenberg said Duke called his office to provide security after a few customers appeared intimidating and threatening to workers trying to get their trucks out.

Additional problems cropped up even as power was being restored.

Residents on a Cincinnati street who remained without power Friday were concerned about a downed line that fell when two huge limbs from a towering oak tree crashed onto it.

Pat Ashbrook, 46, said a Duke Energy representative viewed the damage Monday and told residents the dangling line was dead, but she called 911 later that evening when it appeared to be smoldering. Fire officials put up a yellow caution tape across the street.

"My concern is that the line could come back on if there is a surge before they get out here to restore our service," she said.

Bellbrook Fire Chief Scott Hall near Dayton warned that downed lines that seemed to show no sign of life for days may become live as power is restored. In Sugarcreek Township, there had been some brush fires and tree fires as lines with debris on them were repowered.

State officials and utilities cautioned residents to keep appliances unplugged while power was out and while it was being restored, to avoid higher voltage surges that could damage some devices. Those who had resorted to generators for power were reminded to notify their utility companies.

"A working generator can feed current in to the power lines, creating a danger for repair workers," according to a release from the state's Emergency Operations Center. "In addition, when power is restored, this can create a fire hazard to the generator itself."