Utility companies worked nonstop across much of Maine on Tuesday to restore power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses that were blacked out by an ice storm that lasted two days.
Line crews reduced the number of power outages from close to 120,000 early Tuesday morning to about 85,500 at 10 p.m., but many residents of central and Down East Maine are expected to be in the dark for Christmas and perhaps the rest of this week.
“This is not a typical storm situation and although not as severe as the ice storm of 1998, it’s the largest since that storm,” said Gerry Chasse, president and chief operating officer for Bangor Hydro Electric Co., at a news conference Tuesday afternoon in Bangor.
Chasse, whose company covers much of eastern and northern Maine, said customers who had no power Tuesday should be prepared to be without it until at least the end of Friday.
Bangor Hydro Electric reported 21,366 customers without power at 9 p.m. Tuesday, down from about 39,000 on Monday morning. The company has a total of 115,000 customers.
At 10 p.m., Central Maine Power Co. reported that 64,189 of its 600,000 customers were in the dark, down from a peak of about 87,000 early Tuesday morning. Nearly 29,000 of the remaining outages were in Kennebec County.
CMP said it hoped to have power restored to all of its customers by Thursday night.
Cumberland and York counties, including Portland, were largely unaffected by the ice storm, which began Sunday and lasted through Monday night.
Chasse urged people who had no heat to seek shelter.
The Maine Emergency Management Agency had 35 emergency shelters and warming centers open for people and pets Tuesday night. The shelters, in areas stretching from Lewiston and Augusta to Belfast and Calais, were expected to provide shelter on Christmas Day.
Meanwhile, the storm claimed its first life.
Timothy Woods, 50, of Knox was found dead in his garage early Tuesday morning after he was exposed to carbon monoxide from a generator that was running inside, said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
McCausland said Woods went into a detached garage to refill a generator with gasoline and was overcome by the exhaust. The doors to the garage were closed. Family members found his body around 5:30 a.m.
Gov. Paul LePage reminded Mainers that a state of emergency declared Saturday remains in effect, which means all available state resources will be used to assist affected communities.
GOVERNOR: Check in on Neighbors
“After assuring that your family is safe, check in on friends and neighbors who may need assistance,” LePage said in a prepared statement. “Neighbors helping neighbors save lives. Please share safety information with those who might not have received it.”
Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of people from Michigan to Maine were without power on Christmas Eve. Tens of thousands of Canadians also were affected.
CMP spokesman John Carroll said all of the company’s available line crews, about 85, were in the field Tuesday, along with 92 crews from out-of-state companies and contract crews.
Another 50 to 75 crews were expected to join the effort, he said, along with 100 tree crews cutting limbs that have pulled down lines or are threatening to do so.
“It’s slow, meticulous work,” Carroll said. “Trees and limbs need to be removed before line workers can repair the lines. There is an urgency, but we need these workers to be safe, too.”
At the peak of the blackout in CMP’s coverage area, Kennebec County had the most outages, 34,546, more than half of all customers in the county.
Waldo County had the highest percentage without power. More than three-quarters of all customers there, 18,444, were in the dark.
In some Waldo County towns, including Belmont, Islesboro, Liberty, Monroe, Morrill, Northport, Searsport and Stockton Springs, more than 95 percent of the customers were without power at some point.
Carroll said CMP made progress Tuesday but there will be plenty of restoration work for crews on Christmas.
“This is the first time that our entire company is going to be working through the Christmas holiday,” he said. “We’re not going home until customers have their power back.”
CMP has made requests to other utilities that are part of the North Atlantic Mutual Assistance Group, but Carroll said there are no guarantees that all of the requested crews will arrive, given the timing of the storm and the holiday.
“Utilities are willing to loan their crews but it doesn’t always mean we get what we ask for,” he said. “And the fact that it’s a holiday probably plays into that.”
One positive development, Carroll said, is that few utility poles were down. Replacing a pole and then restringing a power line is much more time-consuming than just fixing a broken line, he said.
Utility companies prioritize repair work during widespread outages. Transmission systems are fixed first, followed by substations. Smaller capacity lines are next, and individual service lines come last. Imminent hazards, such as downed power lines in roads, take priority.
OUTSIDE UTILITIES PITCH IN
Bangor Hydro Electric spokeswoman Susan Falloon said the utility has received assistance from its sister company, Maine Public Service in Aroostook County, and from other utilities.
Bob Potts, another spokesman for the company, said about 400 employees were in the field Tuesday working to restore power. Potts said many more answered phones and customers’ questions at the company’s call center.
Bangor Hydro Electric said Tuesday night that 48 workers from Public Service Electric and Gas of New Jersey would arrive in Maine on Christmas to help with the restoration effort in the Bangor area.
Though Wednesday will bring bright sunshine to most of Maine, it will be very cold, said James Brown, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray. That means the ice buildup will persist in many areas.
Belfast, one of the areas hardest hit, will have temperatures around 15 degrees. With winds reaching speeds of 15 mph, the wind chill will make it feel like it’s nine degrees below zero.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: