The state’s largest power companies say it could take them several days to restore electricity to all of the tens of thousands of customers who lost it in a two-day ice storm that hit hard in central and eastern Maine.
As the storm wound down late Monday, Central Maine Power Co. and Bangor Hydro Electric Co. reported that close to 100,000 customers were without power just before midnight.
At 10 p.m., John Carroll, a spokesman for CMP, said more than 79,000 customers had reported losing power. At 5 a.m. Tuesday that number was still hovering around 79,000.
Carroll said Lincoln, Hancock and Knox counties were the hardest hit in CMP’s coverage area.
Based on the locations of the outages, Carroll said the ice storm, which started Sunday, cut a 40-mile swath through CMP’s service area, from Lewiston to Belfast. Kennebec County appeared to be at the center of the storm, with more than 31,000 reported outages.
By comparison, he said, the infamous ice storm of 1998 left about 275,000 CMP customers in the dark.
Southern Maine was largely unaffected by this week’s storm, which made sidewalks slick but had left just 563 CMP customers in Cumberland County without power by 11:30 p.m. Monday. No outages were reported in York County on Monday night.
Carroll was cautious about predicting when power might be restored.
“Realistically, yes, some customers will be without power on Christmas,” he said. “It will be a multi-day restoration effort.”
Bangor Hydro Electric was in no better shape. Just over 21,000 of its customers were without power at 11:50 p.m. Monday, and by 4 a.m. Tuesday, the number had risen to more than 30,000, according to the Associated Press. Washington and Hancock counties had widespread power outages.
The company posted a statement on its website describing the damage the ice storm caused.
“The weight of the ice on power lines and nearby trees in contact with them brought down lines, broke poles, and caused widespread damage,” the statement said. “Field crews are reporting scenes, especially in Washington County, reminiscent of the Ice Storm of ’98.”
The company said its “full resources are committed to the massive restoration effort,” but “due to the extensive damage some customers will likely be without power until midday Friday.”
Bangor Hydro Electric said it had “all available crews” working and had brought in crews from its sister company, Maine Public Service. Both power companies are owned by Nova Scotia-based Emera Co.
“We haven’t had an event this bad since we had a systemwide outage six or seven years ago,” said Susan Faloon, spokeswoman for Bangor Hydro Electric.
The number of workers or crews tackling the damage was not available, said Faloon.
CMP brought in outside contractors to help restore power. Carroll did not have the number of workers or crews that were working on the outages.
“Ice as much as an inch thick has coated tree branches, power lines and roads, making travel difficult and causing power interruptions,” Carroll said during the day Monday. “We won’t have a better estimate of the damage or the length of the recovery time until the icing stops and the impact phase is over.”
Mike Cempa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said the precipitation that fueled the ice storm was expected to end by midnight Monday.
Tuesday’s forecast is for sunny skies, but it will be extremely cold, with high temperatures in the 20s. The Christmas forecast is similar, with bright sunshine and temperatures reaching a high of 20 degrees.
The extreme cold could complicate life for people without power and heat, Cempa noted. He said temperatures could drop to zero Tuesday night in the areas most affected by the power outages.
The Maine Emergency Management Association announced that shelters opened Monday in two towns.
Officials opened shelters at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast and at Washington County Community College in Calais.
On Monday afternoon in downtown Augusta, Larry Fleury was at his home on Water Street, preparing for a Christmas party for his real estate management company’s employees when he heard a “pop pop pop” that sounded like gunshots.
He went outside and saw a power line down across the parking lot of a neighboring commercial building he owns. The line was on fire – and on top of a tenant’s GMC Jimmy next to the building.
“Fire is running along like it’s a wick, it’s on the hood of (the SUV) and I thought, ‘My God, it’s going to explode and catch the whole place on fire,’ ” Fleury said. “I was shaking as I called 911.”
The fire went out on its own, said Deputy Fire Chief David Groder, and did little visible damage.
The owner of the SUV, Mike Ellingwood, said there was no obvious damage to the vehicle other than burn marks across his hood where the line had melted through the ice and made contact with the metal.
Fleury said help was on the scene within 10 minutes and the incident knocked out power to only part of the building at 49 Water St., so the Christmas party was back on.
Deby Foote of China wasn’t so lucky. She said she lost her power in midafternoon, hours after her son lost power in his nearby home.
CMP reported that 2,135 of its 2,555 customers in China were without power at 9 p.m. Monday.
Foote said the temperature in her home had dropped only a few degrees by the early evening, and she expected her husband to be home soon to set up an emergency generator. Her son was using two wood stoves to heat the house, she said.
Foote said she feared that the power could stay out for an extended period.
“I’m assuming, looking at how the trees are and how much ice there is, it may not be a short thing,” she said. “I have a feeling it could be at least a day.”
In the morning, freezing rain made walking treacherous. Shoppers and workers shuffled, slid or slipped through downtown Portland, with various strategies for navigating the icy sidewalks and streets.
“I’m choosing my steps very carefully,” said Smith Galtney of Raymond, who was walking on Commercial Street in Portland. “I’ve had a couple of slips, but no falls.”
Eric Lebelle, deputy director for public services in Portland, said the city had a “full-on, anti-icing operation underway,” with crews salting and sanding streets and sidewalks around the clock.
He said the city’s pre-treatment of streets and sidewalks helped control the icy conditions and helped the city stay on top of storm conditions.
The icy conditions put a freeze on some of Portland’s recently installed parking pay stations, which froze over and couldn’t take credit cards, but most of the machines were still usable, said parking manager John Peverada.
“Out of 55 machines, we only know of two of them that have a problem,” he said.
Some motorists had complained that the stations’ credit-card slots were unusable, but Peverada said that was not a valid excuse to park without paying.
“They take both credit cards and coins,” he said. “If you can’t swipe your credit card, put in coins instead.”
Staff Writers Gillian Graham and J. Craig Anderson contributed to this report.