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How to Survive the Winter Power Outage

What to do if Wednesday's ice storm has left you without heat and electricity.

By Jon Schuppe
|  Wednesday, Feb 5, 2014  |  Updated 4:38 PM EDT
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    Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of people in the Philadelphia region are stuck without power, with many of them facing the possibility that they won’t get it back for days.

    Now what?

    For those who aren’t used to living off the grid, and don’t have a backup generator, there are many last-minute measures to help weather the outage.

    First, call the power company to report the outage. PECO customers can do so at 800-841-4141 or on its website.

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    Then focus on staying warm. Avoid opening front and back doors. Dress in layers. Wrap in blankets. Pick a room where everyone in the house can gather. Cuddle. Cover windows with blankets or sheets. “That elevates the heat in that particular area of the house,” said Dave Schrader, spokesman for the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

    An added touch, recommended by survivalists: set up a small tent, or make a fort, like you did as a kid.

    Never use candles. Don’t use an oven or stove to warm the house, either. But if there’s a fireplace, take advantage. Just don’t leave the flames unattended. Make sure the fire is out before everyone is asleep. Check the carbon monoxide alarm to see if it’s working. If there’s a battery powered radio, keep it close.

    “Hunker down as best you can and keep informed,” Schrader said.

    When it’s safe to drive, try to find relatives or close friends who have power and ask to stay with them. “Now’s the time to call in that favor,” Schrader said. Include pets in the plans.

    At the same time, check in on friends, family and neighbors to see if they need help.

    Eating also helps stoke body heat. But do it strategically. Work through perishable food first. The refrigerator will keep food cold for four hours if it is kept unopened, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Don’t risk consuming anything beyond that point.

    Food in the freezer remains safe as long as it still has ice crystals on it, the USDA says. If the food is starting to thaw, put it in a cooler and stick it outside, in the snow.

    Prepare for power to be restored by turning off all sensitive electronic equipment that could be damaged from a sudden surge: televisions, microwaves, computers, audio components. Leave one light on so it’s clear when power returns.

    There’s also the risk of freezing pipes. Opening faucets to a drip can prevent this from happening.

    Finally, if all else fails, find a shelter. The Red Cross is in the process of setting up shelters around Chester County, where outages are most widespread. For more information, visit the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania's website or its Twitter feed, @redcrossphilly. Or, download the mobile app.

    "Bring your patience and your understanding," Schrader advised. "It's not going to be ideal."

    But it will be warm, and safe.

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