PLEASE! ... The sign in Decatur expresses the feelings of many: Stop the snow, please! (Photo by Eric Mann)
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Utility crews were braving frigid temperatures today as they work to restore power to thousands of Indiana homes and business following this week’s big winter storm have reduced the number of outages statewide to about 20,000.
Indiana homeland security department spokeswoman Emily Norcoss said Thursday morning that nearly all of the outages in central and southern Indiana are in Duke Energy’s service district, and the rest are rural electric cooperative customers.
Some 87,000 outages were reported during the peak of the storm that lashed the state from Monday through Wednesday.
Temperatures Thursday morning were in the single digits over most of the state as about 70 people remained housed in shelters in Clinton, Sullivan, Vigo and Wayne counties.
Twenty-three Indiana counties remained under snow emergencies urging residents to avoid travel unless necessary.
Power was knocked out to tens of thousands across Indiana’s midsection after a foot or more of snow and strong winds that also snarled travel in the state’s northern reaches.
Overall, though, Indiana felt a glancing blow from the massive storm that was more than 2,000 miles long and barreled through the nation’s midsection on its way to the Northeast, leaving swaths from Chicago to New York paralyzed by snow and ice, stranding hundreds of motorists and shuttering airports and schools.
‘‘It’s amazing to see what the difference of one or two degrees in temperatures can make,’’ said Joe Wainscott, the state’s homeland security director.
In northwestern Indiana, a Porter County man died of an apparent heart attack after clearing snow, and two people died in a crash on a snowy Newton County highway. But it was the ice that caused the most widespread problems, leading to power outages for about 84,000 homes and businesses at the storm’s peak — the bulk in the Terre Haute, Bloomington and Connersville areas. About 50 people were staying at a Red Cross shelter at a Terre Haute high school.
Duke Energy spokeswoman Angeline Protogere said crews working to restore power faced the obstacle of high winds that were lifting up power lines and increasing the chances of those lines failing. She said some customers might not have power until Saturday night.
She said the company had brought in extra crews and was mindful of the need to get power back on ahead of frigid temperatures moving in behind the storm.
In southern Indiana’s Brown County, Lucinda Nord said the temperature was down to 52 degrees inside her home Wednesday since the power went out Tuesday evening. She spent Wednesday with her two sons, ages 20 and 22, clearing downed tree limbs from the family’s one-acre, wooded property near the community of Gnaw Bone.
‘‘It’s not like a fun snow day where you get to stay inside and bake cookies and make soup and enjoy family,’’ Nord said. ‘‘It’s a work day.’’
Nearly all counties in the northern two-thirds of the state issued warnings asking people to stay off the roads. The storm dumped heavy snowfalls across northern Indiana — the deepest about 15 inches near LaPorte and more than 10 inches around Fort Wayne — but the advance warnings seemed to avoid many dangerous situations.
The roof of a factory collapsed under the weight of the snow in Griffith, about seven miles southeast of Gary.
LaPorte County Sheriff Mike Mollenhauer said the area had fewer troubles than from the lake-effect storm that hit in mid-December, dropping more than 30 inches in some spots and leaving numerous drivers stuck overnight on rural roads.
‘‘We had a lot less traffic and a lot less people stranded,’’ he said. ‘‘We had a few here and there and we still have a few cars on some county roads, but nothing like we had in December.’’
Some snowfall continued into Wednesday afternoon near Lake Michigan, with widespread winds of 20 mph to 25 mph. The South Shore commuter railroad suspended service between South Bend and Michigan City until at least midmorning Thursday because of deep snow and expected sub-zero temperatures.
The storm prompted the Indiana General Assembly to postpone its activities at the Statehouse after also doing so on Tuesday. Indianapolis Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, was among scores of districts that canceled classes for a second day, as did Purdue and Indiana State universities.
The National Weather Service had warned of up to an inch of ice in central Indiana from freezing rain during the storm. Less than that accumulated because conditions in the upper atmosphere changed much of Tuesday night’s precipitation to sleet, said Adam Baker, a weather service meteorologist in Indianapolis.
Baker also said warmer temperatures overnight allowed some of the accumulated ice to fall off trees and power lines so they didn’t break.
About 60 shelters were prepared across the state in advance of the storm, but Wainscott said fewer than 10 had been needed.
Police reported scattered highway closures from crashes, along with numerous crashes and slide-offs on slick roadways. Overall, however, traffic was light because many businesses closed and drivers heeded warnings about the storm.
‘‘I think people basically just hunkered down and stayed home,’’ state police Sgt. Kim Riley said.
Coyne reported from South Bend, Ind. Associated Press writers Ken Kusmer, Deanna Martin, Charles Wilson and Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this report.