December 27, 2013

Some Mainers could be without power until 2014

As thousands regain electricity, crews face harsh conditions and extensive damage in areas hit hardest by the ice storm.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Homes and businesses in parts of Maine that were hit hardest by this week’s ice storm could be without electricity until New Year’s Day, when temperatures are expected to plunge below zero.

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A few ice encrusted apples hang on Thursday after the recent ice storm in Durham.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Central Maine Power Co. said it plans to restore power by late Friday to the last of its customers who suffered outages in southern and central Maine. But customers in Bangor Hydro Electric Co.’s more sparsely populated service area in eastern and northern Maine – where storm damage was the worst since the ice storm of 1998 – could remain without power for days.

Ice accumulations as thick as an inch snapped branches, overwhelmed power lines and even pulled down utility poles, especially in Hancock County, where about 6,300 customers remained without power Thursday night.

Some of those customers have been without electricity since Monday, the second day of the storm, and frustration is growing.

One line crew restored power to a neighborhood in the Hancock County town of Surry on Thursday, but a couple of houses didn’t get it back. As the workers prepared to move, one of those residents called customer service and got increasingly agitated.

“Apparently he did state to the call center rep that he might ‘lose it and kill someone’ if the crew didn’t get his power back on,” said Bob Potts, a spokesman for Bangor Hydro Electric. The utility notified Maine State Police and pulled its crew out of the area.

“When you’re talking days without electricity, it’s bad,” said Al Clay, who lives in Franklin, a Hancock County town where about 260 people were without power Thursday night.

Clay and his wife, Linda, are accustomed to living at the end of the line – they have a generator to run their well pump and a wood stove for heat – but they’re feeling more isolated than usual.

“Just past the Sullivan post office, the primary (power) line was down in the street and it was burning for over a day on the side of the road. They got cones put out so people wouldn’t hit it,” Clay said. “I’ve seen two trucks in three days, probably the same one I saw twice. It’s like they don’t have any extra crews on.”

HARSH WEATHER SLOWS RESTORATION

Potts said Bangor Hydro Electric’s 125 workers in the field and 160 from outside the company, including 75 from New Jersey, are working as quickly as they can to restore power.

Limbs falling onto lines are causing more outages, he said, and bad travel conditions are delaying restoration efforts, as are bitter-cold temperatures.

“That’s probably been our bigger challenge in the last couple of days, is the bitter cold that has blanketed the area,” said Potts.

He said workers and equipment don’t perform as quickly in severe cold, and the stakes are higher for customers without heat. Bangor Hydro’s website allows customers to check on outages.

Bangor Hydro Electric has been conservative in projecting when people will get their power, so customers can make arrangements to stay with family members or friends, or in shelters if necessary.

The Maine Emergency Management Agency kept emergency shelters open in several areas. The agency encouraged residents to call 211 or check maine.gov/mema for shelter openings.

Bangor Hydro Electric has contacted other utility companies to request more help, Potts said. Once CMP, which deployed 455 two-man line crews and 450 tree crews, completes its restoration work, those crews could be called on to help Bangor Hydro Electric.

CMP reported 7,000 customers without power around 11 p.m. Thursday, more than three-quarters of them in Kennebec and Waldo counties.

The company said earlier Thursday that it planned to have all customers’ power restored by the end of the day, but it released an update Thursday night saying cold weather and a snowstorm that dropped as much as 4 inches in Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties slowed progress and also caused 5,000 new outages.

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