The wet, heavy snow that snapped branches and toppled trees across the region Saturday and Sunday brought down an extensive network of wiring, including sturdy, long-distance transmission lines and wires supplying individual homes.
More than 3 million customers lost power at some point from Maryland to Maine, and authorities have said it could be next week before power is restored to the rest of the more than 1.7 million residents who are still in the dark.
Many schools remained closed Tuesday throughout the region, and residents stood in long lines to buy fuel for their cars and generators.
"We've had to go to as many as 15 states to request crews," said Katie Blint, a spokeswoman for Connecticut Light & Power Co., the state's largest utility "We certainly understand the hardship this is causing, and we're doing our best out there."
Even with sunny weather in the 50s, unusually mild for the days after a wintry storm, shelters were filled with elderly and disabled people who had no heat and were seeking meals and cots.
Overnight temperatures still dipped into the 30s and below over much of the region.
The storm dropped snowfall totals ranging from less than inch in some places to 32 inches in the small town of Peru, Mass., in the Berkshire Mountains. For some it was an inconvenience; for others, a disaster.
Authorities blamed the storm for at least 23 deaths, including one in Canada. Most were caused by falling trees, traffic accidents or electrocutions from downed wires.
The storm clobbered many communities still recovering from the flooding two months ago caused by Hurricane Irene, leaving weary homeowners exhausted and demoralized.
In areas of New Jersey, residents said they had been able to return to their homes only in the past two weeks. Several families spoke of just having done their first major food shopping since before Irene - food that was quickly rotting in freezers without power.
Halloween trick-or-treating was called off or postponed in many cases because snow, branches and possibly live wires still littered the ground.
Thousands of would-be superheroes, ghosts and witches waited to collect Halloween candy after many towns asked parents to postpone or cancel Halloween revelry.
Ana Cifelli said her daughter, a first-grader going as a cheerleader, and her son, a fourth-grader planning to masquerade as a pirate, will go trick-or-treating Friday.
"They're OK with it, as long as they know they're going to get dressed and go later," said Cifelli, of Nutley, N.J.
Some town officials worried the cleanup would stretch depleted budgets to the breaking point.
"There's no question that most municipal budgets are past bending and into breaking," said William Steinhaus, the top elected of official in Dutchess County, in New York's Hudson Valley, which got nearly 2 feet of snow. "Whether it's fuel money or overtime money or salt and sand material items, those line items are all stretched or broke at this point."
Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, said the agency spent more than $2 million of its $26 million snow-removal budget on keeping state roads clear during the storm.
Scott Heck, borough manager and public works director for Ringwood, N.J., where hundreds of trees were toppled, said "no communities budget for any kind of storm this early" and the costs would definitely affect his budget.
"Normally you come in and plow the snow, but now you have to plow to get to the trees, clear the trees, come back to do more plowing and then clear away all the debris," Heck said.