July 02, 2020

Maine still locked in icy grip > Storm watch posting signals no relief today

It was the same old, cold story Wednesday: endless ice, more freezing drizzle, lots of scraping of windshields and creeping carefully from car to building.

A second straight day of slippery, downright dangerous conditions resulted in mass closings of schools, businesses, and state and town government across central and eastern Maine.

In neighboring Quebec, more than half a million households were without power after ice-laden trees snapped scores of power lines.

Around Bangor, police weren’t barraged by reports of cars off the road as might be expected, although a few accidents occurred. In Hampden, Sgt. Mike Ormsby said at 4:30 p.m. that there hadn’t been any accidents all day.

Ormsby speculated that motorists were getting used to the icy conditions after two days of it and were either staying home or driving more slowly. Also by late afternoon, there still were no reports to police about power outages, although Ormsby expected that could change during the night because ice-encrusted tree limbs were hanging low, closer to power lines.

At Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., “everything is normal right now,” spokesman Bill Cohen said at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

If ice should build up on the lines overnight, he said, the effect couldn’t be predicted. “We have crews that will be called out” if needed, he said. “We have an outage plan, but we’re not sure what’s going to happen.”

Central Maine Power Co. said its line crews and vehicles were standing by in the event of power outages.

The Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon saying it was prepared to open shelters for those who lost power. For information, call 941-2903 or contact your local Emergency Management Agency office.

Relief from the icy weather is not expected today. The National Weather Service posted a winter storm watch for Wednesday night and Thursday for the entire state.

Forecasters said the storm could bring “significant icing” in central and southern Maine. Precipitation in extreme northern sections was expected to fall as snow and sleet.

Unlike almost everyone else, the people with the big scrapers at Bangor International Airport were nearly able to conduct business as usual Wednesday.

“We’ve had no reports of canceled flights,” Operations Superintendent Bob Jarvis said in midafternoon, “but I would not be a bit surprised if there were some minor delays. Flights are operating in and out.”

It took a large effort on the part of airport employees around the clock to keep everything going, Jarvis said, “all the manpower and all the equipment.”

Bangor schools were closed for the second day in a row, as were dozens of other schools around the region.

“We’re all out of storm days,” Bangor Superintendent James Doughty said late Wednesday afternoon. If more snow days should be used this winter, “we will modify the calendar,” he said, by adding days in June.

Although students might be enjoying the extra time off, Doughty said his department was “sensitive to the fact we’re still interrupting people’s lives” by canceling school.

“The issues of safety have been overwhelming,” he said. “I think the city has done a good job, but I think ice is treacherous.” The question is not only the buses that transport 2,500 youngsters to Bangor schools each day, he said, but the 2,000 more who walk to school.

Doughty said he was closely following reports that predicted more poor weather for Thursday, and that he would start checking things out between 4:30 and 5 a.m. so that a decision could be “well in hand” by 6 a.m.

State offices closed early Wednesday — except for those in Aroostook County, where the weather was better. Many courts and town offices shut down early, as did Merrill Merchants Bank. By late afternoon, officials at the Bangor Mall had decided to stay open until 9 p.m. as usual.

WWMJ-FM radio in Ellsworth was operating on a backup transmitter Wednesday afternoon, although WEZQ, its sister station under Dudman Communications, was running as usual.

Cancellations for Wednesday evening included meetings of town councils, selectmen, school boards, church groups, martial arts classes, and a variety of bingo and beano games. Even the Winterport Snowmobile Club decided to hunker down and hold its meeting another time.

Outside homes and businesses, people tried to gain purchase in the icy mess by sprinkling salt, sand or even the material used in cat boxes.

One hardware store reported Wednesday that its wholesale price on salt had gone up a couple of dollars because of scarcity.

The big seller at Shaw’s supermarket on Main Street in Bangor was rock salt, “and we’ve got it,” Manager Joe Walton said, adding that large stores go by corporate policy on pricing, so the price was the same as usual.

At Pet Quarters on Stillwater Avenue, a representative said cat litter is OK for traction, but he was steering people away from salt because it isn’t good for pets to walk on.

What sold well throughout the day at Pet Quarters was a snow-melting material made of carbonyl diamide, a substance he said was 100 percent salt-free and safe for animals.

Road salt and sand supplies were holding steady in the Bangor area, a worker at the Maine Department of Transportation said Wednesday, but other lots were running a bit low because of so much icy weather.

The speed limit on the Maine Turnpike was lowered to 45 mph during the early morning before being restored to normal. No serious accidents were reported.

In Bangor, a New Hampshire man was heading north on Broadway at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday when he lost control of his car and slid off the road into a telephone pole. Daniel Marcotte, 58, apparently was uninjured, although his car received about $300 in damage, according to police.

In Orono, police handled one accident Wednesday morning at the intersection of Crosby and Park streets. One motorist was turning from Crosby Street onto Park Street and was struck by another motorist who was turning from Park Street onto Crosby Street.

The second car didn’t quite make the turn, Officer Frank McGillicuddy reported, and slid into the car turning onto Park Street. Damage to one car was estimated at $550, and $450 in damage was done to the other car.

McGillicuddy also reported seeing fewer motorists on the road, and said drivers seem to be paying closer attention to road conditions.

“We’ve been pretty lucky,” McGillicuddy said. “I’m crossing my fingers” that there aren’t any more accidents tonight.

More than 2,000 employees from Hydro-Quebec, the provincial power company, were working around the clock to restore electricity cut off Tuesday when ice-laden branches knocked out power lines. Almost 700,000 households had been without power before the repair crews started work.

The icy conditions also have jumbled the schedules of 52 high school basketball and ice hockey games and wrestling and swimming meets, many of which will have to be made up later in the month. Many athletic directors had rescheduled early-week games for Wednesday, and those had to be postponed as well.

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