December 23, 2013

Central Maine residents stay home as storm coats area with ice

Outages in Kennebec and Somerset counties climb, Waterville stores close and Santa stays home, as freezing rain continues to fall.

By Matt Hongoltz-hetling And Keith Edwards
Staff Writers

(Continued from page 2)

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ICEY DICEY: A snowplow clears Mayflower Hill Drive in Waterville as a major ice storm rolls through the state on Sunday morning.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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ICEY DICEY: A lone car drives north on Interstate 95 in Waterville as a dangerous wintry mix of ice and snow falls on Sunday morning.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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Castonguay said cycles of weather, including one 90-minute stretch during which four inches of sleet fell, have taken their toll on the eight-man crew that plows Farmington’s 120 miles of roads. Each time the plow trucks rolled, it took three hours to clear the roads and wait for the next call.

Despite pre-treating the blacktop with salt and frequent plowing, he said road conditions were not very good.

“It’s all bonding to the road pretty good,” he said.

Late Sunday morning, Castonguay said his exhausted crew members were being relieved by contractors so that they could get some sleep. He said the town’s workers were scheduled to come back for another shift at midnight.

Bruce White, the public works director of Kingfield, said the town’s plow trucks had already completed a round of plowing and sanding by mid-morning on Sunday.

He said road conditions weren’t good in the town of about 1,000 people, but that people seemed to be staying inside and there had been no accidents reported.

In some ways, Maine was saved on Sunday from the worst effects of the storm by sleet, according to Bob Gilchrist, operations manager in Waterville’s public works department.

When the sleet fell, many public works directors chose not to plow the roads, because the sleet protected the roads from the freezing rain that followed. The granular sleet provided enough traction for reasonably safe driving, he said, while the freezing rain could have turned road surfaces slick and dangerous.

Either way, he said, motorists will face some challenges.

“It was damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” he said. “If you leave the sleet there, the freezing rain doesn’t stick to the road. If you put salt down, it was a slushy mess.”

He said his force of 12 plow trucks and two sidewalk units has been working hard, putting in 12-hour shifts to keep the streets clear. He stuck to sanding Waterville’s streets until about noon, after which he ordered plowing.

“We’ve been working every night, but we’ve been able to pull off the job,” Gilchrist said.

Maine Emergency Management Agency officials said no injuries or fatalities were reported as a result of the storm.

The State Emergency Operations Center, in Augusta, was activated Sunday morning, bringing together MEMA staff with state transportation, utilities and public safety staff. American Red Cross workers were standing by to staff shelters if needed, but no Red Cross shelters had opened as of late Sunday afternoon.

Few accidents

With fewer drivers on the roads and slightly better-than-expected conditions, there were few accidents Sunday.

The Somerset County Sheriff’s Department showed only a handful of accidents Saturday night and Sunday in Anson, Benton, Embden and Fairfield. A dispatcher for Somerset County emergency services said there were no reports of downed lines or trees Sunday morning.

The Maine Department of Public Safety said state police had received no reports of accidents in central Maine Sunday morning.

In Augusta, Sgt. Danny Boivin said there were a couple of minor accidents and a few cars off the road Sunday morning.

He said he “absolutely” advised motorists to stay off the roads if they can.

“The roads are pretty slick. They’re covered in slush and ice,” Boivin said. “Conditions are very poor.”

At midnight on Saturday night, the Maine Turnpike Authority reduced the speed limit from New Gloucester to the Turnpike’s end in Augusta to 45 and reported exit ramps were icing up. At 8 a.m., it added the Freeport area, reporting the road was covered with ice and slush.

The Maine Emergency Management Agency, in a storm summary issued Sunday, said up to a half to three-quarters of an inch of ice could still accumulate in some areas and advised people to continue to monitor local weather forecasts.

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Additional Photos

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ICEY DICEY: Ray Pelkey, 27, of Waterville, wanders the streets during Sunday morning’s storm.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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ICEY DICEY: Icicles drip from the edges of picnic tables at Quarry Road Recreational Area in Waterville on Sunday morning.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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ICEY DICEY: Traffic moves slowly on Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville early Sunday morning as a major ice storm grips the area.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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