BANGOR — President Clinton is expected today to approve Gov. Angus King’s request that Maine be declared a federal disaster area.
The approval would free federal dollars for state and local agencies that are fast depleting budgets and resources battling the worst ice storm in recent memory.
Approximately 162,000 households remained without electricity Monday night.
Any novelty involved in spending a day or two without power is over for Maine residents who this morning enter their sixth day without heat and lights.
Food is spoiling, woodpiles are shrinking, and children confined to small areas without TV are getting bored. And officials Monday were concerned that snow and winds forecast for today could prolong the state’s misery.
So far the storm has claimed the lives of three people, two from carbon monoxide poisoning. On Sunday, 43-year-old Paul Thomas of Oakland became the latest victim when he was struck in the head by a tree while helping a friend clear debris near a camp in Vassalboro.
Kennebec and Washington counties continued to be in the worst shape Monday night, according to Lt. Walter McKee, spokesman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
About 10,000 customers in Washington County continued to be without power after a spat about money between Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. and the Indeck power plant in Jonesboro prompted Bangor Hydro officials to “pull the plug” on that alternative resource.
The wood-fired plant in Jonesboro would have restored power to some of the customers affected by the downed 115,000-volt line that serves Jonesport, Machias, Lubec and Eastport.
For a short time Monday afternoon, the plant was fired up and vapor spewed from the stacks, offering a glimpse of hope against the bleak sight of 8 miles of wooden power poles that have snapped like twigs across the frozen blueberry barrens just outside Deblois.
Before any electricity could be generated, however, a dispute about the cost of the electricity prompted the plant to be shut down.
Gov. King’s office was distressed at the news.
“We’ve been on the phone with the heads of both Bangor Hydro and Indeck. We’re not in the position to say who’s right or wrong. We can only hope they can come to terms and resolve this because people are freezing,” said King’s spokesman, Dennis Bailey.
Monday night, Bangor Hydro spokesman Bill Cohen said the utility company had found an alternative to the Indeck plan that involved rerouting power and bringing in portable generation that he claimed could serve most of the Down East customers.
Elsewhere in the state, schools and businesses continued to be shut down, but both Central Maine Power Co. and Bangor Hydro reported that they were starting to make “some real progress” in getting power restored.
Fifteen shelters were able to close Monday as more people returned to their homes. The number of people staying at shelters dropped from 2,910 to 2,182, according to MEMA.
Officials continued to worry about people reluctant to leave their homes and stressed that the state remained in crisis, despite periods of sunshine and relative warmth. Bailey said it still could be several days or even a week before everyone had power, and the National Weather Service said Monday a cold front had settled across the state.
Many schools throughout the state remained closed Monday, and it was expected that several would remain closed today.
King said Monday that waivers might be granted to schools, alleviating the need for making up days next summer.
“We’ll wait and see what the rest of the winter brings before making that decision,” King said.
Much of the Bangor area remained in the dark Monday night, with outages reported on both sides of the city. Other communities suffering major outages included Brewer, Orono, Old Town, Dixmont, Glenburn, Hampden, Lucerne, Newburgh, Clifton and Dedham.
In Bangor Hydro’s northern division, outages were reported in Medford, Burlington, Milo and Howland, and problems continued to plague the coastal areas of Ellsworth, Sullivan, Franklin and Blue Hill.
Cohen said it was clear that Mainers were losing their patience. Monday morning Cohen said Bangor-Hydro had been unfairly accused of ignoring some of the lower-income housing areas and neighborhoods populated by certain ethnic and religious minorities.
“I would say to the residents of Little City, Capehart and Indian Island to talk to those who live in Judson Heights and North Brewer, because they are without power too,” said an exasperated Cohen.
By late afternoon Monday, the number of CMP customers without power was reduced almost 50 percent from Friday’s peak of more than 275,000.
Major problems still existed Monday night in the Rockland-Belfast district where 13,000 homes remained without electricity. In the Skowhegan district 2,500 customers remained without power as did 12,700 in the Waterville area.
“That means we still have about 350,000 people statewide without power,” Bailey said. “It ain’t over yet. The sun came up this morning and many thought `the storm has past, where’s my power?’ We need to have a great deal of patience and keep our spirits up. For some people it’s going to be awhile, days, and in some areas even weeks. If you are without power don’t stay home. Get out now and go to a shelter.”
Additional out-of-state utility crews were reportedly on their way. Cohen said several crews from Prince Edward Island were expected to arrive in Bangor today.
“We’re in the hand-to-hand combat stage,” Cohen said, “It’s taking us longer now to restore fewer customers.”
As power is restored, Mainers continue to focus their attention on the massive cleanup ahead.
The city of Bangor has reported that it has begun removing downed limbs, focusing most of its efforts on routes used by children walking to and from school.
Residents were urged to place downed limbs and debris near the front of their property for removal.
The storm demolished trees throughout the city and officials said Monday they expected to have to remove several hundred damaged trees over the next several weeks.
They urged residents to exercise caution around trees with significant damage so as to avoid accidents such as the one in Vassalboro on Sunday.
The National Weather Service cautioned that trees that do not appear damaged may have been weakened by ice. Those trees or their limbs may fall without warning, especially considering the 15 to 25 mph winds forecast for today.