Central Maine Power Co. said Monday night that it will take several more days to restore electricity to all of its customers who lost power because of Tropical Storm Irene.

Across Maine on Sunday, Irene brought 2 to as much as 9 inches of rain, sustained winds of 40 mph and gusts up to 52 mph – enough to knock down trees and cut power to nearly 280,000 homes and businesses at some point during the storm.

CMP spokesman John Carroll said the scope of the damage and the number of customers affected – more than 110,000 were still without power at 9 p.m. Monday – have kept crews busy around the clock.

“We will have a much better sense of that (repair schedule) tomorrow,” Carroll said Monday night. “But the reality is, it is going to be several more days before we can restore power to some of our customers.”

Statewide, emergency management officials assessed damage and worked out recovery plans Monday.

“Obviously we have a couple overwhelming issues,” said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency. “One is the power outage, which is significant. The other is what appears to be some major road damage in Franklin and Somerset counties.

“Western Maine really got the bulk of the rain, and they got a lot of rain in a very short period of time,” she said.

Miller said county officials would determine whether any of the 15 shelters that opened Sunday night had to remain open for people who had lost power, or if there were better ways to care for those who needed somewhere to stay.

“The good news is it’s August and not January,” so people can stay warm in homes without electricity, she said. “The issues are obviously how long the restoration is going to take, and there are folks that are more vulnerable to power outages, people who might depend on electricity for medical equipment.”

CMP outages peaked at nearly 187,000 customers around 9 p.m. Sunday. Crews kept working during the storm and restored power to thousands of customers.

York and Cumberland counties were hit hardest. York County still had 23,505 customers without power Monday night; Cumberland County had 26,968.

Carroll said the storm’s powerful winds broke at least 158 utility poles and uprooted a large number of trees. By comparison, a snowstorm in February 2010 that knocked out power to 220,000 customers broke 126 poles.

Carroll said the heavy rain that preceded Sunday’s high winds made the ground soggy, so trees were prone to being uprooted.

He said CMP has 200 line crews, including 60 Canadian crews, on duty this week. Each crew consists of two people.

In addition, there are 160 tree trimming crews in the state. They clear downed trees and limbs from roads and power lines before the line crews come in to restore power.

The crews can work only 17 consecutive hours before they are required to take a seven-hour rest period. Each crew is given a place to stay overnight and meals, including bag lunches.

“In order for everyone to be safe, you need to keep these folks well rested and well fed,” Carroll said. “You can’t have them sleeping in their trucks.”

Carroll said CMP follows a power restoration process for major storms. The first priority is restoring power in areas near hospitals, shelters and public safety agencies. CMP also targets populated areas before going into more isolated communities.

As of Monday night, several towns in CMP’s service area remained completely blacked out. Carroll said no one in Sebago, Casco or Frye Island had electricity. And nearly everyone in Naples, New Gloucester and Raymond was without power.

Joan Garber of Freeport had no power Monday, but she was relieved that her greenhouse wasn’t damaged and her house wasn’t cold. And she had filled several containers and her tea kettle with water before the storm, knowing that her pump might not work.

If she doesn’t open her freezer, she has three days before her food starts to spoil. “It bugs me that I’m so dependent on electricity,” she said.

Garber, whose route into town was blocked by a downed wire on Flying Point Road, said she lost power for several days during the ice storm of 2008. That was worse than Irene, she said.

“It was not such a bad storm,” she said.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: dhoey@pressherald.com

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: dhench@pressherald.com