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Ice storm cuts power to 870,000 in Midwest

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Snow and ice storms across the U.S. Midwest knocked out power to more than 870,000 homes and businesses from Oklahoma to West Virginia on Wednesday, local utilities reported.

The band of storms, which started on Tuesday, were blamed for nearly two dozen deaths, many of them traffic-related as ice-covered roads were too dangerous to navigate.

Schools were closed in several states while airport traffic was delayed across the eastern third of the nation.

While utility crews went to work to restore power on Wednesday, some customers could be in the dark until the middle of next week, utilities said.

On Wednesday, Kentucky was the hardest hit state, with nearly 300,000 customers in the Bluegrass State without power.

Officials at E.ON U.S., which owns Louisville Gas and Electric Co and Kentucky Utilities Co, said it was still assessing the damage as the number of customer outages continued to grow Wednesday.

E.ON U.S., a subsidiary or German energy company E.ON AG, did not say when it expected to restore service. Other area utilities estimated restoration would take several days.

The storm system moved into the Northeast, dropping snow from Ohio to Maine and ice in Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Snow is less likely to disrupt power service while ice accumulates on trees and branches, snapping them onto power lines.

“Ice can be a utility’s worst enemy,” said Jim Stanley, president of Duke Energy’s Indiana utility which had restored power to 17,000 customers by mid-day Wednesday. About 80,000 remained without service.

In Arkansas, Entergy Corp said outages climbed to 108,000 customers Wednesday while American Electric Power Co Inc’s Southwestern Electric Power Co (SWEPCO) reported about 53,000 out, down from a peak of 59,000 outages.

Entergy and SWEPCO also reported that the heavy ice knocked out more than two dozen high-voltage lines in northern Arkansas which will take longer to repair.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino in New York, Eileen O’Grady in Houston and Bernie Woodall in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio