Nearly 20 flights and hundreds of passengers were delayed Tuesday afternoon when the Portland International Jetport lost power after a pickup truck hit a utility pole on outer Congress Street and knocked out service to the airport and hundreds of Central Maine Power customers in the area.

The crash also snarled rush hour traffic and prompted the city to extend voting until 9:30 p.m. at the Italian Heritage Center polling place, which voters reached by taking a detour through a Shaw’s parking lot.

“For anyone trying to get to the Italian Heritage Center polling location: please access Westland Street via the Shaw’s parking lot,” city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin tweeted Tuesday evening.

It wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday night if the city’s decision to extend hours at the Italian Heritage Center stemmed from the Maine Democratic Party’s move to pursue the court order that officials said was necessary to keep the polling station open. Earlier, Grondin had said the Secretary of State’s Office was consulted and the decision had been made not to extend hours at the polling place beyond the normal 8 p.m. closing time.

Bob Smith, the warden in charge of the Italian Heritage Center polling place, said city officials told him to keep the polls open until 9:30 p.m.

“We just smiled, said ‘Hello,’ and told (the voters) to come on in,” Smith said just minutes before the polling place closed Tuesday night.

Smith said five voters took advantage of the extended hours – the only polling place in Maine that was allowed to remain open beyond the standard 8 p.m. closing time.

“Some people, who were trying to get here between 5 and 7 (p.m.), got frustrated because they had to take the long way around,” said Erlene Stuart, an election clerk.

Congress Street between Westbrook Street and Stevens Avenue remained closed to traffic late Tuesday because street lights and traffic lights were not working.

Stuart said most of the people who voted after 8 p.m. knew about the extended hours because they received a text from the city.

Grondin was not aware of any obstacles to people reaching the polling place and said residents familiar with that section of outer Congress Street should have had no problem reaching the polling place. Anyone in line as of the 9:30 p.m. closing time was allowed to vote.

The crash happened around 3:30 p.m. and caused 19 commercial flights, including 11 arrivals, to be delayed. Hundreds of passengers were impacted.

“We have hundreds of people in the terminal right now,” Jetport Director Paul Bradbury said at 5 p.m. “This is our busy time. There are a lot of flights dropping off passengers and taking passengers out of the jetport.”

Bradbury said the power came on at the jetport at 10:08 p.m., nearly seven hours after it went out.

Earlier, however, all of the roads leading to the jetport were dark because streetlights and traffic lights had no power. Temporary stop signs had been erected at intersections.

The inside of the jetport terminal was dimly lit and several passengers sitting in the gloom were waiting for flights to arrive or had recently disembarked.

“It’s just a little strange to come into an airport that doesn’t have a lot of lighting,” said John Jennison of New York City.

Pilots started warning passengers about 15 minutes before they landed in Portland that the jetport had lost power and that they did not know what to expect. Jennison had to walk down a boarding ramp in order to reach the terminal because the jetways that extend from the terminal to the airliners had no power to operate on.

Melissa Miller and her husband, Daniel Pouthot, of Monson were patiently waiting inside the jetport terminal for a delayed United flight to arrive because one of Miller’s checked bags was still on the plane. Miller and her belongings became separated after a series of flight delays and cancellations that occurred in Newark, New Jersey, on Monday and Tuesday.

“It was scary to hear that the power was out. I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Miller said.

Flights were delayed because jetways – the enclosed, movable connectors that extend from the terminal gate to an airliner – rely on electricity and were unable to connect to the planes.

At least one flight was able to take off during the outage using a manual boarding bridge, but the process is slow, Bradbury said. Passenger bags also had to be screened manually by Transportation Security Administration workers, he said.

“We have to be very careful about boarding passengers, due to security concerns,” he said.

Incoming and outgoing flights at the jetport were not affected by the outage because the airfield used its backup generator to provide power for runway lighting, instrument landing devices, and power to the air traffic control tower, Bradbury said. That backup system is often used, especially if there is heavy fog or snow.

More than 571 CMP customers in the Stroudwater neighborhood were still without power as of 10:45 p.m., but power had been restored to all of the affected customers by 11 p.m., the company’s website said.

CMP spokeswoman Catherine Hartnett said the pole that was knocked over by the pickup truck contained sensitive switching equipment. Most poles do not have switching equipment attached to them.

“If that particular pole had not broken and one near it had, we could have used the switching equipment on that pole to reroute power to the area and restored power sooner,” Hartnett said in an email. “Since that particular pole broke, our rerouting options did not exist so the outage can only be restored by fixing that particular pole.”

The crash forced police to close Congress Street between Stevens Avenue and Westbrook Street, snarling traffic and forcing motorists to find other routes home.

Portland police tweeted that the driver who was involved in the crash sustained minor injuries. The driver has not been identified and the cause of the crash remains under investigation.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

filed under: