Nearly 170,000 Central Maine Power Co. customers were still without electricity Friday night in the wake of a strong spring storm, and the utility company warned that it could be two days before power is fully restored.

CMP reported 169,132 customers still without power as of 12:20 a.m. Saturday, down from a peak of more than 204,000 earlier in the day. Rain, snow, thunder, lightning and gusty winds hit Maine Thursday, knocking out power to more than 268,000 across the state at one point and creating hazardous driving conditions that closed state government.

CMP says it is focusing on making sure hospitals and critical care facilities have power and warned customers they could be without electricity for two days because of the extensive scale of damage. The utility has a total of almost 650,000 customers.

The disruptions come as Mainers are homebound because of the coronavirus and relying on home computers and internet service.

“We understand that people are working and learning from home and we will work constantly and safely to restore their power,” CMP spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett said “We are practicing social distancing in the field to protect our employees and contractors – this means traveling to work sites in several vehicles and always being aware of proximity to others in the field. This takes a little more thought and care than in ‘normal’ times while in the field.”

Hartnett said the company is working with local emergency management officials “to ensure we understand local priorities for clearing roads of downed wires and trees.”

“With the pandemic, we must prioritize access to hospitals and medical facilities as well as food distribution sites,” she said. “Of course restoring power to these facilities is also a priority and all hospitals in our service areas currently have power.”

In addition to internal crews, CMP said it has over 230 contracted line crews and crews from sister companies as well as 150 tree crews assisting in the clearing and restoration effort today. It was expecting more crews to join the restoration work later Friday, CMP said.

The outages reported by CMP were spread across 14 counties, with Lincoln, Kennebec, Somerset and Waldo reporting the most customers without power. About 6,300 outages were reported in Cumberland County shortly just after midnight Saturday, and 2,502 in York County.

Emera Maine, which provides electricity to northern and eastern Maine, reported 64,302 outages at 9:30 a.m. Friday. That number had gone down to 37,620 outages by 9 p.m., with more than 24,000 of them in Penobscot County. The utility has roughly 162,000 customers.

“We fully expected this,” Hartnett said Thursday. “We’ve been talking to customers for two days about preparing for this storm.”

“One thing that we’ve asked,” Hartnett said,” is that with people at home, sometimes they will approach the crews and get a little too close. That’s never good. Please respect the safety of all our crews.”

Last month, crews using physical-distancing protocol restored 50,000 outages in a 24-hour period, Hartnett said.

“As we continue to assess and clear damage we will not be providing specific restoration times for some time today – it is most important that areas are safe,” she said. “Customers will be able to check the outage pages on the website for these updates but should be prepared not to see specifics for some time.”

Gov. Janet Mills announced Friday morning that state government would be closed for the day because of “hazardous” driving conditions and widespread outages.

“With heavy, wet snow causing dangerous driving conditions and power outages, I am closing state government offices,” Mills said in a statement. “I thank all Maine people for rising to the new challenge of a spring snowstorm in the middle of a pandemic by staying at home and traveling only when absolutely necessary so our first responders and road crews can work safely.”

The National Weather Service in Gray reported snow totals as of 1:45 p.m. Friday had reached 7.8 inches in Auburn, 6.5 inches in Freeport, 5 inches in New Gloucester and 3 inches at the Portland International Jetport. Less than two inches were reported by Friday afternoon in York County.

The highest snow totals were reported in Piscataquis County, where 21 inches fell in East Blanchard, and Wellington recorded 20 inches by 8:30 a.m. Friday. In Penobscot County, 18 inches of snow was reported in Carmel, while 16 inches of snow fell in Ashland in Aroostook County, according to the National Weather Service office in Caribou.

Historically, April snowstorms are not unusual, although the last time Portland received at least 6 inches this late in the month was 1974, when 6.4 inches fell on April 9.

 

Staff Writer Megan Gray contributed to this report.

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