December 25, 2013

Many Mainers face likelihood of cold, dark Christmas

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

click image to enlarge

Andrew Powers, an arborist with Asplundh Tree Experts, clears power lines from iced branches along Mayflower Heights Drive in Waterville on Monday. Kennebec County led the way with about 34,500 outages, or more than half of all CMP customers in that county.

Michael G. Seamans / Morning Sentinel

click image to enlarge

A pedestrian and her dog make their way across an icy intersection on Preble Street in downtown Portland on Monday morning. Few lost power in Cumberland County, but the ice storm left roads slippery during the commute Monday morning.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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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.

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