Heavy rain and strong winds lashed coastal Maine on Monday, complicating ongoing efforts to fix utility lines damaged during a storm last week and raising concerns about new outages.

Winds gusts were clocked at almost 50 mph in Bangor and Bar Harbor on Monday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service in Gray. Overnight forecasts predicted gusts as strong as 55 mph in Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties, and up to 60 mph in coastal Washington and Hancock counties.

This has utility companies and state officials worried about additional power outages. Crews scrambled over the weekend to finish restoring power after a heavy snowstorm Thursday knocked out electricity to nearly a third of the state. Close to 28,000 Maine customers were without power late Monday night.

Downed power lines burn on Falmouth Road in Falmouth on Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

But it was the potential for flooding that had state officials worried Monday night. Warmer temperatures mean that most Mainers can hunker down and ride out a power outage, but flash floods from rainfall and snow melt are a different story, said Maine Emergency Management Agency spokesman Susan Faloon.

Steady rain blanketed most of the state, with some areas getting as much as half an inch of rain per hour.

“We’re encouraging people who live by water in the White Mountain area of western Maine and northern Maine near the Allagash and St. John rivers to have an evacuation plan in place, just in case,” Faloon said. “With social distancing measures in place, and motels closed, it’s more complicated than usual.”

The National Weather Service was also predicting flooding of the Kennebec and Swift rivers.

Families that fall into high-risk categories should talk to neighbors, friends and relatives now, in advance of an emergency, to see who may have be able to take them in while still following pandemic guidelines if the heavy rain and snow melt cause flash flooding, she said.

If that is not an option, they should check with their towns, which might open emergency shelters, she said, or consider calling 211, the state’s toll-free referral line. Such decisions become harder to make in the heat of the moment, especially if the storm knocks out power, Faloon said.

Although utility crews are working around the clock, it is unlikely they can restore power to all those who lost it in last week’s storm before Monday night’s weather causes new outages, said Faloon. MEMA will continue to work with utilities to prioritize power restoration for critical services like hospitals and grocery stores.

Pedestrians navigate the sidewalk along Congress Street in Portland on a wet and windy Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Utility crews have asked Mainers to remember that even they must follow state and federal social distance guidelines. In his daily briefing Monday, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said utility crews are reporting an increase in the number of Mainers seeking a face-to-face chat.

Simply put, utility crews need that 6-feet berth, too, Shah said. 

“Power outages during pandemics come with additional challenges – full refrigerators with food that could spoil, people working from home, kids studying from home,” he said. “Give utility workers the space they need to do their jobs, maintain physical distance and get back everybody’s electricity as quick as possible.”

The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory for much of the state, including Cumberland and York counties. Gusty winds will blow around unsecured objects, and tree limbs could be blown down, which will make power restoration that much more challenging, Faloon said.

Strong wind gusts will make it difficult, and at times impossible, for line crews to make immediate repairs. Central Maine Power lost half of the line resources it had recruited from out of state to help with the repair work over the weekend after their home states recalled them to respond to their own storm damage.

Workers attend to downed power lines on Falmouth Road in Falmouth on Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“This has been a very challenging day for every worker in the field,” said CMP President Doug Herling. “We will not stop until all outages are restored. We must prioritize the safety of our employees and contractors.”

CMP reported just over 16,196 customers were still without power at 8 p.m. Monday, primarily in Lincoln, Penobscot and Waldo counties, down from about 260,000 without power right after the snowstorm. It had about 1,500 people on clean-up and restoration duty working Sunday.

Emera Maine, which serves northern and Down East areas, reported about 12,648 customers were without power as of 8 p.m. Monday, according to its website. Deer Isle appeared to be especially hard hit, especially in the towns of Deer Isle and Stonington, which reported the most outages at 1,361 and 1,231 respectively.

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