February 10, 2013

Short stories from Mainers stuck in the blizzard

From staff reports

Yarmouth Nordic ski team makes the most of storm

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Lucy Sommo, right, of Portland braces herself from the strong winds along the Eastern Promenade while snowshoeing with Jean Geslin during a blizzard on Saturday morning in Portland on February 9, 2013.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

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Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans A man blows snow from his driveway on Bartlett Street in Waterville as Winter Storm Nemo hammers central Maine early Saturday morning.

Staff photo/Michael G. Seamans

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Snow kept motorists at home in Yarmouth but provided a rare opportunity for the high school Nordic ski team.

Five girls on the team hauled out their “rock skis” and headed to the streets for practice.

While the roads were somewhat plowed, crews had yet to spread any sand, resulting in near-perfect ski conditions on Main Street and other streets around the historic village.

The team Saturday was supposed to ski at the WMC Classic Championship Race at Stark’s Hill in Fryeburg, but the race was canceled due to the storm.

The race has been rescheduled for Monday.

Eerie street scene greets lifelong Portland resident

Dan Lord, the maintenance man at Matthew’s, with a sign outside declaring it “Portland’s Oldest Pub,” began shoveling out on the Free Street sidewalk before 9 a.m. Saturday.

Portland streets and sidewalks were eerily deserted at the time, with drifts of snow 4 to 5 feet high on some sidewalks and streets.

“This is the doozy,” said Lord, a lifelong Portland resident. “I think this tops it all.”

Wind and snowdrifts draw visitors to Fort Williams

As the blizzard was winding down Saturday morning, some folks braved the winds and snowdrifts at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth.

Cars could make it only as far as the top of the hill before a large snowdrift forced the drivers to turn around.

Skiers and snowshoers had better luck, although anyone on foot – including several dogs – had to deal with a wind that was largely horizontal.

Bare grass could be seen in large swathes of the park, particularly on exposed hilltops, with enormous sculpted drifts piled nearby. One photographer pulled an insulated, wheeled cooler filled with his cameras, lenses, batteries and tripod.

Two boys from Cape Elizabeth, 11-year-old Ben Payson and his neighbor Jack Sands, spent the morning building a snow fort connected by a tunnel, then ventured into Fort Williams with their parents to check out the waves. Payson took great pleasure in leaping off a picnic table into the wind.

Debris from the ocean washed nearly to the beach’s adjacent parking lot, thanks to a higher-than-usual high tide at 10 a.m. and the powerful storm surge.

All quiet in Buxton – except for one lone snowmobiler

Buxton residents Saturday were slow to dig out from under nearly 30 inches of snow.

At midafternoon, a lone snowmobiler zipped up and down snow-covered Depot Street.

Many stores in town were closed, but Aubuchon Hardware saw about 15 customers throughout the day.

“The only thing we’re selling is snow shovels, transmission fluid and gas cans,” said assistant store manager Ann Wedge.

Wedge said she arrived at the store at the intersection of routes 4A and 202 to find the parking lot packed with 4-foot drifts of snow. A pile of snow fell into the store when she opened the front doors.

“I don’t remember a storm ever being this bad,” she said.

Andrew Whitaker of Buxton, who ventured to Aubuchon for parts to fix his broken snowblower, was less impressed.

“It’s Maine,” he said. “It’s supposed to be like this.”

Close call for man who was blown into Portland Harbor

One man escaped a close call during the blizzard. A cold one, too.

The unidentified man was blown off a waterfront pier shortly before 3 a.m. Saturday into Casco Bay, said Portland Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria, who is also the city’s emergency management director.

The man was quickly pulled from the water and onto the pier at 25 Long Wharf, near DiMillo’s On the Water floating restaurant off Commercial Street, LaMoria said, speaking at a late-morning news conference at the city’s Public Services Offices.

The man was transported to a hospital but was believed to be OK, the chief said.

LaMoria could not immediately say what the man was doing on the wharf at 3 a.m. in the middle of the storm.

Could have been worse for guests at Portland hotel

Portland hotels got some extra business from downtown workers who couldn’t go home Friday night.

One, the Holiday Inn by the Bay on Spring Street, had a fire alarm during the blizzard, forcing its guests to evacuate their rooms around 12:15 a.m., said manager Sarah Ripley.

Fortunately, Ripley said, guests only had to evacuate to the lobby and didn’t have to go outside into the blizzard.

“I’m not sure what triggered the alarm,” Ripley said. “They were able to go back to their rooms.”

Snow creates lots of work for a few good Samaritans

Even as the snow tapered off Saturday morning, gusting winds pushed the snow across roads and made driving tricky.

In some places, it was hard to see where road ended and sidewalk began.

The South Portland entrance to the Casco Bay Bridge on Route 77 was almost blocked by snowdrifts at one point Saturday morning.

While roads were almost empty, good Samaritans were out in force. One anonymous rescuer shoveled and pushed a vehicle stuck in a snowbank on Free Street in Portland for 10 minutes, refusing to give up until the motorist was once more on her way.

Snowstorm proves tricky for the professionals as well

Even snowplow drivers were getting stuck in the storm.

Ben Dionne of South Portland got up at 3 a.m. to start on his route, but two hours later was still trying to get his truck out of 4-foot drifts in his own driveway.

Then, once he got out to to work, he got stuck in a customer’s driveway.

“I had to get a wrecker to get me out,” Dionne said.

Whiteout conditions even idled the power line crews

Sixty contract line workers from New Brunswick drove to Portland on Friday to be in position to assist with repairs.

But by midmorning Saturday the crews – and their 26 trucks – were still waiting at Portland’s Clarion Hotel for roads to be passable and for winds to die down sufficiently to go to work. At 10 a.m., dozens of the workers milled around in boots and safety vests watching television reports on the storm and awaiting the call to go to work.

“It’s really, really cold and windy out there,” one line worker said on returning from checking his truck. “The roads aren’t passable.”

During major weather events, Central Maine Power Co. typically books large blocks of rooms at the Clarion and other Portland hotels for out-of-town line workers called in to assist with emergency repairs.

While the blizzard slowed repairs, the region escaped significant outages and the crews had electricity to nearly all customers by Saturday evening.

Die-hard shoppers still find their Pringles and beer

At least some grocery stores and convenience stores were open Saturday for people in need of supplies.

The Hannaford Supermarket in Mill Creek in South Portland was open at the usual 7 a.m. Several customers had dropped in by mid-morning.

Broadway One Stop at 333 Broadway in South Portland saw a steady stream of customers.

“One guy was at the door when I opened at 7 a.m. for a 12-pack and some Pringles. Since then, its been beer and cigarettes,” said Christian Hirschmeier, assistant manager.

When you can’t get out to the gym, try ‘snowga’ 

With fitness centers shut down during the storm, gym rats had to resort to snow shoveling and outdoor sports activities for their workouts.

But some fitness facilities took pity on their members and offered alternatives that didn’t require venturing out into the blowing conditions.

Portland Power Yoga on Cove Street emailed members with an online yoga session, called “snowga,” to help them weather the storm. 

Wishful thinking at jetport, with most flights canceled

The Portland International Jetport was almost deserted on Friday, with only a few hopeful travelers watching the departures screens.

"This is nuts," said Liane Knutsen, one of a dozen employees of Mount Pleasant Dental Care of Rockland who were trying to get to Florida for an office retreat. "This is a big storm. If we can get on the plane, we're good."

A couple from Florida hoped to catch a flight home.

"We didn't think it was going to be this bad this early," said Brenda LeBel of Davenport, Fla. She and her husband, Roger LeBel, moved to Florida from Maine six years ago.

"Most flights have been canceled, but we hope we will get on," she said, crossing her fingers.

Most travelers were out of luck, with airlines canceling more than two dozen flights from Portland on Friday afternoon and night. The last flight to get out was a US Airways flight to Washington, which left shortly before 1 p.m., about 25 minutes late. 

Letter carriers brave storm, hoping the paths are clear

While letter carriers were doing their best to deliver the mail Friday, they have discretion to end their routes early if they feel unsafe or if conditions like icy overhangs, slippery steps or unshoveled paths make their routes dangerous.

Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in northern New England, advised residents to keep paths clear and ensure that carriers have clear access.

"The ones that are out there today, they're earning their pay," Rizzo said. 

Hardware's business brisk as customers get prepared

Gary Whitmore, store manager at Aubuchon Hardware on Stevens Avenue in Portland, said people picked up shovels and salt in recent days in preparation for the storm. He also had sold a lot of fuel, including propane and wood pellets.

Whitmore had one generator in stock, and a customer bought it Friday morning, "just to be safe." 

Mother, daughter nibble cookies, plan to do crafts

Some residents were happy to stay off the roads.

"We are doing all the things we can within walking distance of home," said Andrea Gavin, who nibbled Valentine's Day cookies with her 5-year-old daughter, Sophie, at the Big Sky Bakery in Portland.

They had bought valentines at a nearby CVS and were headed to Artists and Craftsmen next door to pick up craft projects for the weekend.

"I think we're going to be indoors for a while," Gavin said. 

City deserted, traffic light but skiers head for slopes

Officials who hoped that drivers would get off the roads early Friday apparently got their wish: By 4 p.m., traffic on most major routes was very light and downtown Portland was largely deserted.

With a forecast calling for conditions to go downhill rapidly, most companies gave employees the day off or let them go home early.

However, state police said traffic coming in from New Hampshire on the Maine Turnpike was still steady in the afternoon. They speculated that skiers were trying to beat the storm to the mountains where they could take advantage of fresh powder on Saturday. 

Law school students make case for playing in snow

There were more 20-somethings than children playing in the snow Friday afternoon on Portland's Eastern Promenade, a popular spot for sledding.

Through Facebook, Taylor Sampson, 25, had invited his classmates from the University of Maine School of Law, which canceled classes for the day.

After breaking the sleds they bought at Walmart, about 10 first-year law students started tossing a football and tackling each other in the snow instead.

"Getting a snow day now is even better than in second grade," Sampson said. 

Not 'freaking out' at the supermarket

At the Hannaford store on Back Cove in Portland, the parking lot was mostly full at 8:30 a.m. on Friday. Inside, checkout lines were a half-dozen customers deep.

“I didn’t plan ahead,” said Lisa Carleton, a South Portland teacher, as she stood in line at the deli counter. “I figured it wouldn’t be a crowd this morning, that everyone would have come last night.”

Not everyone was there for bread and milk. Kevin Jones was stocking up on diapers for his 2-year-old twins.

“We just need a few things,” he said. “I don’t freak out too much. I’ve lived in Maine my whole life.”  

Red Claws decide to play and 300 hardy fans watch

The hardiest of Maine Red Claws fans proved their dedication to the basketball team Friday by showing up at the Portland Expo for a 7 p.m. game against the Bakersfield Jam.

Although 2,250 tickets were sold, only 300 people were in the stands, said Jana Spaulding, spokeswoman for the team.

The NBA D-League decides whether to cancel a game, and if both teams can get to the venue safely, they'll usually play, Spaulding said.

Had the city needed to use the Expo has an emergency shelter, the league would have considered that, she said. "Obviously, that's an extenuating circumstance." 

You know it's bad outside when Old Port bars close

Just about the only businesses open in the Old Port on Friday night were bars, but even many of them were closed.

Marty Plante and five of his friends tried going to happy hour at Margaritas Mexican Restaurant and the Asylum, without any luck, before they ended up at Gritty McDuff's Brew Pub.

The friends met at the University of Maine, where they were trained how to "drink under any circumstance," said Nick Dyer.

Jake Condon said that in the 12 years he has worked at Gritty's, he's never known the bar to close.

"The only time would be if the power goes out," he said. 

Have cross-country skis, will travel on city streets

Cross-country skiers made getting around Portland look easy on Friday.

Gliding along Congress Street, Irit Altman, 35, made it to the top of the Munjoy Hill from her home in the West End, and planned to loop back around through the Deering neighborhood.

Gillian Demers, 22, was headed to her home on Cumberland Avenue from her job at a law office in the Old Port. As the most mobile employee Friday, she got the job of making a run to the post office.

Demers said she learned to leave her car behind during snowstorms when she was a student at the University of Maine at Farmington.

"I don't drive. I ski," she said.

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Additional Photos

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Snow blows and drifts over the benches along the Eastern Promenade during the blizzard on Munjoy Hill in Portland onSaturday morning February 9, 2013.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

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Alexandria Brahler, right, holds onto Colin Matthews, as they struggle against strong winds and blowing snow Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 in Portland, Maine. Officials are cautioning residents to stay off the roads in Maine, where Portland set an all-time snowfall record and blowing snow continues to reduce visibility on the coast. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

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Skiers put fresh tracks on Quarry Road as snow falls in Waterville on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013.

Michael G. Seamans / Staff Photographer



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