PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Islanders were urged Saturday to stay off the roads to allow crews to clear up to 2 feet of snow from a powerful winter storm that left more than 180,000 homes and businesses without power across the state.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee ordered all roads closed to nonessential traffic, effective Saturday morning. He said the temporary travel restrictions would allow public works crews to clear streets and aid utility workers trying to restore power.
"These power outages are significant and we've got to get our shelters open," Chafee told The Associated Press. "People were out getting stuck and clogging the roads, making the job harder. We're seeing progress. The roads are getting cleared."
More than 178,000 utility customers remained without power early Saturday afternoon. The number represents more than a third of all of National Grid's Rhode Island customers. The utility said extra crews were called in to assist but cautioned that it could be days before power is fully restored. While the most outages were reported in Providence County, almost every home in Newport and Bristol counties lost power.
South Kingstown resident Jon Pincince said Saturday he'd lost power the night before and planned to drive his four children to stay with his parents in Cumberland. For several days during Hurricane Irene and last fall's Superstorm Sandy, the family had no electricity, and Pincince said he expects it take days again for crews to restore power to his home.
During the storm, Pincince, his wife and children played with their smartphones and read books by flashlight.
"It wasn't too cold when we went to sleep, but we woke up this morning and it was about 47 degrees," he said.
Community shelters in areas hardest hit by outages were opened Saturday afternoon. Chafee said anyone without power or electricity could use the roads to get to shelters before temperatures drop as forecast for Saturday night.
Chafee said he hoped the travel restrictions could be lifted later Saturday.
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who briefly lost power at his home, asked residents to check on family members and elderly friends and neighbors to make sure they were warm and safe.
"We're going to need patience," he said. "The city is working around the clock until everyone has their power back and everyone has the ability to travel."
Chafee declared a state of emergency Friday and ordered interstates closed to non-essential traffic as the storm picked up in intensity. No major accidents or injuries were reported on state highways, although dozens of cars got stuck in the snow, state police Lt. William Jamieson said.
T.F. Green Airport remained closed Saturday morning and all departing flights for the day were canceled. Train service from Providence was also canceled.
Roads in Providence were mostly empty midday Saturday except for snow plows and emergency vehicles.
Not wanting to let the snow go to waste, Rebekah and John Speck strapped on cross-country skis and journeyed through the winter landscape of the city's East Side. They waited out the storm indoors playing chess and talking.
"There was some wine and whiskey too," Rebekah Speck said.
"We both look forward to this," said John Speck. "We're winter people. We love this."
Across the neighborhood, Jennifer and Jason Harrison were making progress in clearing the 3 feet of snow that blocked their driveway and sidewalks. Jason Harrison had been working for nearly three hours with the assistance of a snow blower, but still had more work to do.
"Once every 30 years or so a storm like this is fine," he said, adding that his snow blower "has already paid for itself."
Associated Press writer Michelle R. Smith contributed to this report.