December 26, 2013

Utilities chipping away at ice storm outages

CMP hopes to get everyone back in business by Thursday night, but fresh snow could slow the pace of repairs.

By Matt Byrne And Scott Dolan
Staff Writers

CMP hopes to get everyone back on the grid by Thursday night, but fresh snow could slow the recovery rate.

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Arborist Randy Patten of Asplundh Tree Expert Co. descends between frozen power lines Wednesday in Farmingdale after clearing limbs away from utility poles. Several hundred out-of-state utility and tree workers arrived in Kennebec County on Christmas to restore power. Patten traveled from Vermont with fellow arborist Ray Coutu to remove fallen branches overhanging hazardous power lines. “You do what you got to do to help people,” Patten said. “Particularly on Christmas.”

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

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Power repair crews in Maine continued to chisel away at power outages that darkened tens of thousands of homes and businesses over the Christmas holiday, with companies pledging to work continuously until electricity is restored throughout the state.

By about 2 a.m. Thursday, workers from Central Maine Power Co. had made steady progress toward restoring power, with about 25,700 CMP customers remaining in the dark, down from a peak of 87,000 CMP customers Tuesday morning, according to the company.

Bangor Hydro Electric Co., meanwhile, struggled to correct its outages as quickly. About 9,400 of its customers were still without electricity early Thursday, down from about 12,000 earlier in the evening and more than 30,000 earlier this week.

The storm began Sunday and lasted through Monday.

As crews rushed to fix the damage, forecasters called for snowfall Thursday, which could slow repair efforts, with much as 5 inches predicted to fall in some parts of the state.

To cope with the deluge of repairs, Central Maine Power increased its workforce to 1,800 on Christmas Day.

“With help from companies from Canada and throughout the Northeast, we have five times our normal number of line crews, and they have made steady progress in every county affected by the storm,” said John Carroll, spokesman for CMP. “The work will continue through the night, but we realize that’s not much comfort to those customers facing another cold night.”

An official at Bangor Hydro Electric Co. estimated on Tuesday that all customers would likely see their power restored by Friday. CMP, meanwhile, said it hoped to have power restored to all of its customers by Thursday night – a prediction the company softened as the likelihood of snowfall increased.

“It’s a goal, not a promise,” said Carroll, in an earlier statement.

Cumberland and York counties were largely unaffected by the ice storm. At the height of the storm, roughly 120,000 homes and businesses lost power across the state.

The highest concentrations of power losses were seen in Kennebec and Waldo counties, where the ice storm had created a 30-mile-wide path of destruction. Augusta and Waterville were right in the center of the hardest-hit areas.

Thursday’s weather is expected to bring light snow in Greater Portland, with accumulation of a few inches, while areas hardest hit by outages, including Lewiston, Augusta and Down East, could see up to 5 more inches of snow.

Warmer weather will not arrive in the area until Saturday, when temperatures will reach into the 30s, said Mike Ekster, meteorologist at the National Weather Service station in Gray. Sunday will bring temperatures in the 40s, Ekster said, but the reprieve will be short-lived.

By Tuesday, the area will again plunge into another deep freeze, he said.

“Long-range prognostications suggest that the first week of the new year could be quite cold,” Ekster said.

Many Mainers who have been without power for multiple days were struggling with basic necessities.

“It’s been frustrating,” said Belgrade resident Chris Devine Wednesday afternoon.

He said that for the past three days, none of the six houses on Maplehurst Road has had power. Three of the homes, including Devine’s, are isolated because large trees have fallen and blocked the road, which is off West Road.

He and his wife were away from the house when it happened, so they now must park beyond a fallen tree and walk through the woods to get home. It doesn’t sound like a long distance, he said, until you’ve done it four or five times in a day, carrying Christmas presents or other items.

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