HARRISBURG, Pa. — Hundreds of thousands of people spent a second chilly day without electricity Thursday as utility crews from as far away as Canada and Arkansas scrambled to restore power lost when a heavy coating of ice took down trees and limbs in the mid-Atlantic.

State officials likened the scope of the damage to a hurricane. Some who might not get power back for several days sought warmth – or at least somewhere to recharge their batteries – in shopping malls, public libraries and hastily established shelters.

More than a half-million customers were without electricity Thursday, the vast majority of them in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said after an aerial survey of the storm’s aftermath that crews put a priority on restoring electricity to hospitals and nursing homes, and to communications facilities and sewer plants.

“This storm is in some respects as bad or maybe even worse than Hurricane Sandy,” he said during an appearance in the Philadelphia suburbs. He said a shipment of electrical generators from the federal government was on its way to Pennsylvania.

He said he was urging electric utilities “to move as fast as they can, but they have to do it within the parameters of safety.”

Peco, the dominant electricity provider in the Philadelphia area, had the most outages with 423,000. Peco spokeswoman Debra Yemenijian most would have their lights back on by Friday night, but she said some could be without power until Sunday.

About 200 people took advantage of seven shelters in three suburban Philadelphia counties, according to the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Shelters also were open in central Pennsylvania.

The Northeast’s second winter storm of the week dumped more than a foot of snow in some places on Wednesday, forcing schools, businesses and offices to close, snarling air travel and sending cars and trucks sliding on slippery roads and highways. Making the storm worse was a thick coating of ice it left on trees and power lines.