April 08, 2020

Postal workers face challenges of mail delivery despite disaster

BANGOR — For the thousands of Mainers still stuck at home without power, the arrival of the mail is an event to look forward to.

“Other than the mail and the BDN, what else do people have to look forward to?” asked letter carrier Gus Turney while delivering mail to the 1,000 patrons on his Kenduskeag Avenue route.

Turney said he is well aware of the importance of contact with the outside world in what for many is a time of isolation. He has been without power since Thursday.

For Turney and other employees of the U.S. Postal Service, last week’s ice storm presented unprecedented challenges.

“I’ve never seen something last so long and the potential for danger be so great,” said Bangor Postmaster Steve Hathaway earlier this week.

Unsafe delivery conditions, however, have resulted in injuries for some area letter carriers, Hathaway said.

“I’ve had two people take falls and get hurt,” Hathaway said, one suffering a sprained ankle and the other a back injury.

“It’s like playing Russian roulette,” Hathaway said.

Last week, as the storm reached its peak, icy streets and sidewalks made walking treacherous, particularly for letter carriers.

Ice grips and hard hats were provided to carriers worried about slipping or being hit on the head by falling ice and branches, Hathaway said.

Though mail delivery has stayed on schedule, there are cases in which service has been interrupted and might continue to be interrupted, Hathaway said.

Carriers have been advised to avoid situations they deem unsafe, such as downed power lines and driveways blocked by trees or limbs.

“I don’t want anyone out delivering after dark, especially now,” Hathaway added. Mail not delivered by sundown must wait until the next day.

The policies exist as much to protect homeowners as carriers. Hathaway said homeowners may be liable if a postal worker is injured on their property.

“Most of the people do really well,” the postmaster said. “We can’t thank them enough for their efforts. It’s really bad out there.”

Hathaway offers the following suggestions for postal patrons who want mail service to continue:

Clear driveways, walks and steps of ice and snow. Hathaway notes that the main entrance for many homes is at the side or back, while the front porch area — where most mailboxes are located — is neglected.

Keep mailboxes free of ice. Though Hathaway noted that many carriers carry rubber mallets and other tools to open ice-jammed mailboxes, the extra work affects their ability to finish their routes on time.

Mailman Turney suggested that homeowners clear their driveways shortly after plow trucks have gone by. It is much easier to clear slush and snow before it freezes, he said.

Hathaway said that these safety tips should be observed throughout the winter season, not just during storms.

“We’re out delivering every day,” he said.

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