A quarter-million customers from Cape Fear, N.C., to Baltimore remained without power yesterday, more than four days after the deluge named Floyd swept through, and flood-ravaged areas along the Virginia-North Carolina border braced for the still-rising waters of rivers already far above recorded levels.

Officials of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., with about 70,000 of its customers still waiting for electricity to be restored, said Floyd was the most devastating storm in the utility's 180-year history, affecting nearly half of its 1.2 million customers.

Last night, more than 14,000 customers in Anne Arundel County were still in the dark, with about 5,600 without power in Howard County and 3,800 in Prince George's County. About 33,000 of BGE's customers waiting for the lights to come back on were in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, officials said. The utility was distributing dry ice -- brought in from the Midwest -- for customers to use for refrigeration.

"What we're seeing like we've never seen before is very mature, very huge trees becoming completely uprooted from all the rain of these two storms in a row," said BGE spokesman Mike Delaney, referring to hurricanes Dennis and Floyd.

Virginia Power had 12,000 customers in the state waiting in the dark late yesterday, although "virtually no one in Northern Virginia," said spokesman Tom Kazas. He blamed high water and downed trees for the delay in restoring power. "We've got to wait for the water," he said.

Kazas said that in the hardest-hit area -- including the cities of Portsmouth and Suffolk and the counties of Southampton and Isle of Wight -- 5,000 customers were without electricity. An additional 1,200 customers in the Gloucester County area remain without power.

The situation in North Carolina was much worse, with thousands in temporary shelters while their homes and businesses lie under muddy, sewage-contaminated water. The carcasses of dead animals are creating additional health risks. It could be next week or more before power and other services are restored.

The flooding, the worst ever to hit North Carolina, is centered in Tarboro, about 20 miles off Interstate 95 in the northeastern corner of the state. Officials said the number of people forced from their homes in that area is simply too large to calculate.

Hundreds of local and state roads are closed -- including I-95, whose southbound lanes were shut down from south of Petersburg, Va., to Rocky Mount, N.C.

In Virginia and North Carolina, rescuers took to boats yesterday to look for people still stranded on roofs and trees, and officials were concerned about the prospect of more rain from a tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico and about the growing shortage of food and clean drinking water. State officials said they received reports of waste water contamination from 20 local governments and 200 swine farmers.

Thousands filled shelters past their capacities. In Edgecombe County, N.C., more than 2,000 evacuees were being housed and fed at a high school designed for 800 students, and hundreds more slept in their cars nearby, said Mitch Stensland, personnel director for the county school system.

"We have enough to get through each day. Then we worry about the next," Stensland said.

The Associated Press reported 21 deaths in North Carolina and a total of 44 deaths along the Eastern Seaboard.

Sundown curfews were in effect for most of North Carolina's eastern counties. Army trucks, police cruisers and caravans of yellow dump trucks appeared to be the only vehicles on the roads. Many towns were pitch dark.

"These people are starting to run out of food," said James Mercer, director of emergency services for Edgecombe County.

In the late afternoon, four Army Chinook helicopters arrived with fresh shipments of water and food.

Watching them land, with dust swirling upward, Hampton Winnegan, 33, who has been in and out of several area shelters since Floyd hit, said: "You feel like you're on your own, then suddenly you've got million-dollar helicopters flying in. It makes you think that someone cares."

While flood waters began to recede in some areas, residents down river could only wait as the flooding worsens.

The Tar River, for example, fell more than a foot yesterday in Rocky Mount but is not expected to crest in Greenville, N.C., 35 miles downstream, until today. In Greenville, the water is expected to reach 17 feet above flood stage, according to officials at the state emergency management office in Raleigh.

In Maryland, however, officials believe that the worst is over. BGE officials said they expect to have most repairs completed by tomorrow, aided by the brilliant sunshine and lack of rain since Floyd passed through on Thursday.

"Our goal is to have the number [of outages] significantly reduced by . . . early tomorrow morning," Nancy Caplan, a BGE spokeswoman, said yesterday, "but I already know we will be continuing to work through Tuesday" to restore power to all customers who lost power because of the storm.

Most schools are scheduled to open today, but Anne Arundel school officials said four schools will remain shuttered because they still have no power. Those schools are Eastport Elementary, Georgetown East Elementary, Jones Elementary and Maryland City Elementary.

Most of the outages were caused by toppled trees or utility poles or by the flooding of underground power facilities. Efforts to repair the damage were hampered by flooded streets and roads blocked by trees, Caplan said.

BGE reported that it had more than 1,200 people working to restore power.

At Will French's home in a neighborhood outside Annapolis, the kitchen clock was frozen at 11:20 a.m. -- Thursday, that is. But time has not stood still for the 79-year-old French. It's turned back. Way back.

"The baseball and TV I don't mind so much being gone," French said. "It's the hot baths I miss."

He's had to throw out 150 pounds of spoiled food. And he has spent the days trying to bail water from the flooded basement or chase away the raccoon that sought refuge from Floyd in the eaves. Nights are pitch black, and French, his daughter Margaret and her fiance, Brad Williams, sit around candles playing cards, listening to French tell war stories "for about the thousandth time," Margaret said.

"It's so quiet at night," she said, "except for the guy with the generator down the street." Indeed, the neighborhood resonated with the hum of generators and the crack of gas-powered chain saws, making firewood of the enormous trees that have crashed onto roofs and blocked roads.

The rest of the time, they simply wait. "There's nothing else we can do," a resigned French said.

A few blocks away, Jenny and Mark Jacobs, their four children and au pair, were trying to make the power outage an adventure. Mark Jacobs broke out his camping gear, including the Coleman stove and kerosene lanterns. And five thick red and green Christmas candles and several Playskool flashlights sat prominently in the family room. But as yesterday afternoon wore into another dark evening, and laundry and dirty dishes piled up, enthusiasm was waning.

"It's getting old," Jenny Jacobs said as her 3-year old, Peter, asked what was wrong with the TV for what seemed like the millionth time.

Without power, Larry Booth and his neighbors, near Weems Creek in Anne Arundel, became pioneers again, relying on each other, making do with what they had, confronting the idea of simply trying to survive.

Up and down the street, homes were connected by thick orange extension cords as those few with generators shared what little power they had with others, to keep food from going bad or power sump pumps for a few hours. The area, which has no city water or sewer service, also had been without running water for four days.

"You don't realize what a luxury it is to flush," Booth said. "It's kind of primitive."

In Howard County, where Shari Dwoskin, 24, was still waiting for the utility repair crews, she said one of the hardest parts was trying to prepare for Yom Kippur with no proper way to cook.

"We're having to cook everything on the grill. Normally, we have brisket, but we're not having that this year. And normally we have soup, but we're not having that."

Instead, Dwoskin's family was planning to dine on tuna, salmon and chicken, by candlelight.

Staff writers David Brown, Susan Levine, Raja Mishra and Alice Reid contributed to this report. Mishra reported from North Carolina.