WARWICK, R.I. – Cold showers. Meals in the dark. Refrigerators full of spoiled food. No TV. No Internet.

Up and down the East Coast, patience is wearing thin among the hundreds of thousands of people still waiting for the electricity to come back on after Hurricane Irene knocked out their power last weekend.

“It’s like ‘Little House on the Prairie’ times,” said Debbie McWeeney, who went to a Red Cross shelter in Warwick to pick up food and water after everything in her refrigerator went bad. “Except I’m not enjoying it at all.”

With the waters receding across much of the flood-stricken region, homeowners are mucking out their basements and dragging soggy furniture to the curb. But the wait for power drags on, with an estimated 895,000 homes and businesses still without electricity, down from a peak of 9.6 million.

In southern Maine, only a few scattered outages were expected to remain this morning.

About 1,500 Central Maine Power customers were still without electricity at 9 p.m. Thursday, a huge decrease from Sunday night, when outages peaked at nearly 187,000.

“We expect to make our goal,” Tom Depeter, director of operations at CMP, said Thursday night. “By morning, if there’s anything left, it will only be a few scattered outages in rural areas or on camp roads.”

York County had the most customers without power Thursday night with 1,170, followed by Cumberland County with 227.

Elsewhere in New England, criticism of the utility companies was mounting. In Rhode Island, a state senator called for an investigation. In Massachusetts, the attorney general demanded information from utilities on how they are dealing with the crisis, including how many crews are in the field and their response time.

The industry has defended its efforts, noting that it warned the public that a storm like Irene was bound to cause prolonged outages, and pointing out that flooding and toppled trees caused severe damage to utility poles, substations and other equipment.

Tim Horan, National Grid president for Rhode Island, said crews from as far as Kansas and Idaho are working 16-hour shifts and “we’re committed to getting this resolved as soon as possible.”

In the meantime, people are taking cold showers or washing up at shelters, using camp stoves and grills to cook, competing for ice at the grocery store and relying on generators and hand-cranked radios. The late-summer weather, at least, has been mercifully cool across much of the East Coast.

Many homes that depend on wells have no water because they have no electricity to pump it. Relief agencies have been handing out drinking water. And a high school in Exeter, R.I., opened its gym to let people shower.

In some places, people on oxygen or other medical devices that require electricity have been taken to shelters that have power.

Irene has been blamed for at least 46 deaths in 13 states, including two in Maine. With the streets drying out in hard-hit New Jersey, some towns faced new problems, namely trash bins overflowing with waterlogged debris. In Vermont, with roads slowly reopening, the National Guard’s airlift of food, water and other supplies to once-cut-off towns was winding down.

But Vermont faced new danger Thursday evening: A flash flood warning was issued for the Rutland area after 2 to 5 inches of rain fell. In the town of Clarendon, two highway workers repairing a damaged bridge were stranded on a sandbar in a river after flash flooding hit. Helicopters were needed to rescue them.

The White House declared a major disaster in Vermont, clearing the way for federal aid to make repairs.

Without power, the Tirado family’s septic pump stopped working at their home in Lake Ariel, Pa., in the Pocono Mountains, sending sewage through their shower drain and into their finished basement, where the filth was an inch deep. Carpeting, drywall, furniture, a computer, two video game systems, new school clothes for the children — all destroyed.

“You should never, ever, smell what we smelled,” Shari Tirado said.

In Maryland, where 1.1 million utility customers lost power, Julie Marlowe said she has heard enough empty promises from her utility company, Baltimore Gas & Electric, since the lights went out on Saturday night.

“Don’t tell me that it will be restored by a certain time and then let that time go by. Tell me a later date and get it back on earlier and I’ll be impressed,” said Marlowe, who lives in Towson.

In Richmond, Va., a huge tangle of downed cables lay in the street outside the Hilscher home. Beth Hilscher said she had repeatedly called the power company about the electricity, “and every time, it’s like a new report, like they’ve never heard of it before.”

As she spoke, five utility trucks rumbled up to a pole that had snapped after an ancient, 50-foot oak fell. For a brief moment, she became excited by the prospect of hot showers and refrigerated food. But after dropping off a new pole, the crew drove off to another assignment.

Politicians have been inundated with complaints from people who say it is taking too long. Rhode Island state Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. called Thursday for the state Public Utilities Commission to investigate National Grid’s response effort.

William Bryan, deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Energy Department, said it typically takes at least few days to restore power after a storm like Irene, and National Grid “has done a great job. … You are well ahead of the curve for restoration.”

At Olmsted Gardens, a housing complex for senior citizens in Providence, R.I., the mail finally came, delivered in the dark with the help of a flashlight. The manager of the complex emerged with an envelope from National Grid.

“That’s one bill I’m going to delay paying,” Stephen Lavoie said with a smile.