December 28, 2013

Power outages fluctuate, drop below 4,000

Warmer weather creates problems Saturday, and Sunday’s expected storm could cause a relapse.

By Mary Pols mpols@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Warmer weather contributed to nearly 3,800 new power outages around the state Saturday as ice left on trees from last weekend’s storm melted and caused tree limbs to snap back and take out new wires.

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Traffic moves past utility crews as they prepare to work on power lines on Thursday in Litchfield, where many have been without electricity since Monday’s ice storm. A storm on Sunday may throw more wrenches into repair efforts.

The Associated Press

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Icicles hang from the statue of a bear outside a rest area off Interstate 295 in Gardiner.

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“A lot of these outages we had today are not necessarily people who have been out since Monday,” Central Maine Power Co. spokeswoman Gail Rice said.

Between CMP and Bangor Hydro Electric Co.’s customers, there were a total of more than 8,200 Mainers without power as of 5:30 p.m. Saturday. But those numbers dropped as the night went on and by 8:45 p.m. there were fewer than 4,000 customers throughout the state still in the dark.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service on Saturday issued a winter storm warning for Sunday into Monday morning, encompassing a good part of central Maine, including some of the areas still recovering from the ice storm earlier in the week. Snow accumulations could be from 6 to 10 inches inland, said National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Capriola. The coastal regions, including Portland, are under a winter weather advisory, with totals expected in the range of 2 to 6 inches.

The approaching storm could mean even more power outages as trees already weighted down by ice and snow are burdened by fresh snowfall, which Capriola said is likely to be heavy and wet.

“It might create some issues more in the areas that were hardest hit by the ice storm,” Capriola said. “Like the Capital region.”

Power had been restored to all but about 150 CMP customers earlier in the day Saturday, but by nightfall the number had gone back up to 900. Then it pingponged back again to 157.

“You’ll see these wild fluctuations with the slightly warmer temperatures,” CMP’s Rice said. “Things are melting and the tree limbs will snap back up. And sometimes we need to take out a circuit to make a repair.”

Bangor Hydro saw a similar spike in customers without power, going from 4,045 customers early Saturday to 7,377 shortly after sunset but then back down to 3,621.

Rice said CMP remained hopeful that all of its customers would have power by the end of the day Saturday, while Bangor Hydro was anticipating many of those without power might not get it back until New Year’s Day.

Crews were still working around the clock Saturday to bring back electricity to customers whose power was knocked out by the ice storm at the beginning of the week, but Rice said it is a slow process. “It is very painstaking,” she said.

“There are some places that have been described as a mess. It is very labor-intensive,” said Rice.

The ice storm knocked out power to about 120,000 customers statewide during the peak of the outages Tuesday. Most of the CMP outages are in Kennebec and Knox counties.

Customers still without power are in hard-to-reach areas or near the end of transmission lines, said power company officials. Some Bangor Hydro customers may not have power until the middle of next week.

“We want our customers to be able to make educated decisions about what to do,” said Bob Potts, a company spokesman.

He said additional crews from Bangor Hydro’s parent company, Emera, in Nova Scotia arrived in Maine on Friday afternoon.

Bangor Hydro crews were wrapping up repairs in Washington County on Saturday and moving into Hancock County, which was hard hit by the storm.

“We are making progress,” Potts said.

Earlier Saturday, the National Weather Service office in Gray issued a warning about falling ice as many regions experienced the first thaw since the ice storm hit. With temperatures near or above freezing, and light, 10- to 15-mph winds, people were advised to be aware of shifting ice from above.

But Mainers without power were still making use of warming centers set up in hard-hit areas of the state. On Saturday a number of people showed up to take advantage of the free showers at the Ellsworth YWCA.

The Union Congregational Church of Hancock opened the doors to its social hall for the public as a warming shelter this week, even though the church’s own power was iffy at one point. Ron Schwizer, the congregation’s president, said the church lost power Monday, got it back on Monday night, then lost it again Tuesday morning for a bit. “It was touch and go,” he said.

Schwizer said he wasn’t sure if anyone had used the social hall to warm up but it would remain open until everyone’s power is back.

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:mpols@pressherald.comTwitter: marypols

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.combquimby@pressherald.com

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