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In Fitchburg, Residents Brace For Days Without Power03:17
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Aretha and Joshua Cotton outside their apartment in Fitchburg. The power went out at 1 a.m. Sunday, and they don't have a generator. (Bianca Vazquez Toness/WBUR)
Aretha and Joshua Cotton outside their apartment in Fitchburg. The power went out at 1 a.m. Sunday, and they don't have a generator. (Bianca Vazquez Toness/WBUR)

Hundreds of thousands of people across Massachusetts are still without power after Saturday's nor'easter. The surprising early storm dumped as much as 30 inches of heavy, wet snow in the western part of the state. Utility companies say it could be days before they restore electricity to some places.

Residents in the City of Fitchburg spent much of the day Sunday setting up generators and shoveling snow.

Scott Peterson, 34, was digging out his blue Saturn. He said he has "no expectation of power." That's because Peterson and other Fitchburg residents have seen the damage a storm can do.

In 2008, an ice storm paralyzed Fitchburg and the surrounding towns. Peterson said it took 12 days to restore electricity to his street.

“He’s cold and it sucks because at night it gets so cold in here you can see your own breath.”

Aretha Cotton, mother of two

Peterson said the storm could have been much worse, and that he'll cope by plugging in his generator and showering at work.

But not everyone is so prepared. The residents of a triple-decker apartment building across the street say they don't have a generator and don't have the means to buy one.

Sol Carasquillo, 21, is pregnant. She's sitting outside, since she said it's just as cold inside, but more boring. Her black down coat is pulled taut around her huge belly.

"I'm supposed to go into labor Tuesday," Carasquillo said. Until then, she's "just waiting it out. It's all I can do, all I can do."

Carasquillo said she doesn't have anywhere else to go. She'll just wear her coats and hat inside and try not to worry.

"Well, if you start worrying, that's when stuff happens, so you just gotta' be calm," she said.

Her downstairs neighbor, Aretha Cotton, isn't as relaxed.

"I hate it, because I have a 10-month-old baby and a 3-year-old son, and we're in the dark. Literally. And I'm a single parent," Cotton said.

The 36-year-old also has very little money. Cotton pays for her apartment with a Section 8 voucher and lives off several hundred dollars a month in welfare payments.

Inside her apartment, Cotton runs to her crying son, Joshua. He's wearing a fleece jacket inside his crib.

"He's cold and it sucks because at night it gets so cold in here you can see your own breath," Cotton said.

She worries about her cellphone dying, and not having electricity to plug in her son's asthma machine if he needs it.

"I love my kids and I'm scared because they're talking about a couple of days without electricity. Look at my refrigerator. For crying out loud! Four packs of meat spoiled."

Like many communities, Fitchburg is operating an emergency shelter for its residents, but it's hard to get the word out if people can't listen to the radio or watch television. And as of Sunday, Cotton and her neighbor Carasquillo didn't know about the shelter and planned on spending another night in their cold and dark apartments.

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This program aired on October 31, 2011.

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