Just getting to their source was difficult for utility crews. Ice-encrusted tree limbs and power lines blocked glazed roads, and cracking limbs pierced the air like popping gunfire as they snapped.
In Kentucky, National Guard soldiers were dispatched to remove the debris. Oklahoma, already struggling to restore power there, planned to send crews to help in Arkansas later in the week.
"It looks like a tornado came through, but there wasn't a path; it was everywhere," said Mel Coleman, the chief executive officer of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative in Salem. The power is out at his house, too, and he spent Tuesday night in a chair at his office.
The storm was "worse than we ever imagined," he said.
In Arkansas — where ice was 3 inches thick in some places — people huddled next to fireplaces, wood-burning stoves and portable heaters powered by generators. When it got too cold, they left for shelters or relatives' homes that weren't hit as badly.
"We bundled up together on a bed with four blankets. It's freezing," said Pearl Schmidt of Paintsville, in eastern Kentucky. Her family endured 32-degree weather Wednesday morning before leaving their house for a shelter.
Kyle Brashears' family rode out the storm in their Mountain Home, Ark., home before fleeing to relatives after half an ice-caked oak tree fell into their home.
"It caved the roof in and ripped the gutter off, although it didn't penetrate inside," he said. "I was walking around outside until about 1 a.m. and it was just a nonstop medley of tree limbs cracking off."
The number of homes and businesses without power totaled around 1.4 million Wednesday evening, in a swath of states from Oklahoma to West Virginia. Arkansas had more than 350,000 customers in the dark; Kentucky had about a half-million. The actual number of people affected the power failures could be much higher.
In Kentucky, the power outages produced by the ice storm were outdone only by the remnants of Hurricane Ike, which lashed the state with fierce winds last year, leaving about 600,000 customers without power. Gov. Steve Beshear said he was seeking a federal emergency disaster declaration, a key step in securing federal assitance for storm victims.
"We've got lots of counties that do not have any communication, any heat, any power," he said.
Various charities opened shelters across the region, but with the power out nearly everywhere — including at some radio stations — it was difficult to spread the word. Some deputies went door to door and offered to drive the elderly to safety.