April 07, 2020

Coping with Crisis> Aroostook County affected by storm

HOULTON — Though Aroostook County residents escaped last week’s ice storm that paralyzed much of the rest of Maine, they weren’t able to escape its effects, especially in southern parts of the County.

The National Weather Service office in Caribou reported Sunday that so far this season, more than 75 inches of snow has fallen in the region, compared with a normal of about 66 inches. There are 41 inches of snow on the ground at Caribou.

In Houlton, weather observers at the airport there have recorded 56 inches of snow on the ground, including more than a foot of ice pellets that fell during the last storm.

The heavy pellets, on top of what has fallen already, have caused problems for homeowners and farmers who are scrambling to shovel off their roofs before more accumulates.

Along Route 1 between Houlton and Mars Hill on Saturday, scores of people could be seen clearing off trailer roofs, porches, and potato packing sheds.

For some, it was too late. In Mars Hill, parts of the roofs of two metal buildings, including a potato house, reportedly collapsed. In Houlton, Cary and Terry Hill lost part of their barn.

According to Cary Hill’s brother Craig, a section of the main barn over the milking parlor and milk room collapsed under the weight of the snow at about 3:30 p.m. Friday. The area that collapsed was used to store hay, he said.

Hill said his brother had cleared off part of the roof, but did not have time to do the rest before the collapse.

The collapse broke power lines in the barn, which delayed the milking of Hill’s 65 dairy cows by hours. Craig Hill said milking was finally completed at 1:30 a.m. Saturday after power was restored.

According to Chad Toby, who works for the Hills, the collapse sounded like two loud bangs. Toby said he was headed toward the barn from feeding horses in another building when the roof let go.

“I heard a bang and then I heard another bang, and ice came shattering off the roof,” he said Saturday morning, while getting ready to help with the morning milking.

He said Cary Hill was coming out of the milk room door just as part of the front wall overhead started to fall.

“I hollered, `Cary, get out of there,”‘ said Toby.

Gesturing with his hands, he showed how the section of collapsed wall missed Hill by only a few feet.

Despite the collapse, no one was hurt, and Hill was busy milking again Saturday morning. The only damage to the milking system occurred when a large beam crashed through the floor and broke off a section of plastic pipe. The pipe was easily repaired.

“There is a God,” Hill said with a smile Saturday morning, as he hooked up cows to the milking machine.

Meanwhile, other family members and friends were busy shoring up the ceiling over the milk room so that it would not collapse and destroy the milking system.

The Hills are insured, but as of Saturday afternoon, they still had no estimate of the damage. Craig Hill speculated that it could run to more than $25,000.

About 8,000 people served by the Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative in Calais, including many in southern Aroostook County and parts of Penobscot County near Patten and Springfield, were without power for most of Saturday afternoon and night.

According to EMEC spokesman Charlie McAlpin, the company’s northern transmission line went out after a switch at the substation in Princeton iced up. Power was restored to most areas north of Topsfieid in Washington County around midnight Sunday, but there were still spot outages in that area, McAlpin said.

In some sections of Washington County south of Topsfield, power was expected to remain out Sunday night and into Monday.

“We have our hands full at this point,” McAlpin said.

Maine Public Service Co., which supplies electric power to most of Aroostook County, didn’t experience any outages from the storm, but some of its crews are involved in repair operations outside the county.

An MPS dispatcher said Sunday that four line crews and two tree crews were sent south to help Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. personnel restore power to their customers.

Even cellular telephone service in parts of Aroostook County was affected by the ice storm in central and southern Maine.

Customers of United States Cellular found there phones were activated in the roam mode even in their local service areas.

An operator for USC said the ice storm had affected service all over the state, even in sections not hit by the storm. She said crews were working as quickly as possible to restore normal service.

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