April 07, 2020

Voices desperate, angry as outage drags on

CHERRYFIELD — Clark Hatto looks outside the window of his trailer to the thermometer, which reads zero. His wife, May, coughs, then strikes a match to light the fourth burner of her gas stove, their only source of heat.

A snowstorm is on its way in and the power is still out in this tiny pocket of houses, trailers and a tiny camp or two along a seemingly forgotten back road in this Down East blueberry processing town.

A makeshift sign nailed to a utility pole reflects the desperation of the people living in the woods along the twisting, ice-covered road: “Tenan Lane has no power since 1-8-98.”

The Hattos are among the 78,000 electric customers in Maine who remained without service Thursday as a result of last week’s ice storm, which caused more damage to Maine’s power transmission system than any storm in the past.

Most people accepted the storm at first as just another challenge thrown at Maine by nature. But now, people still waiting for their lights to go on are getting cold, frustrated, desperate and angry.

“I’ve been coughing my head off for a week,” said May Hatto as she sat at her kitchen table, just a couple of feet from where the blue propane flames glowed from the four burners. The place smelled of gas. The temperature was warm toward the ceiling as the heat rose, but it was cold toward the floor.

Clark Hatto, a former woodsman who like his wife is on disability, said he called Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. on Wednesday to plead for service. He cannot understand why homes on other roads in town are hooked back up while people in Tenan Lane freeze.

“It makes a man wonder, sitting here seven days,” he said.

Hatto said he could buy a generator to run his heating system and water, but he’s afraid he would never use it again and would have to sell it at a loss. He coughed.

The couple dismissed out-of-hand any suggestion they might go to a shelter. She said she wouldn’t leave her two cats behind, and he is afraid the trailer pipes will freeze.

“If the pipes don’t freeze, I won’t,” said Clark Hatto.

Down the road, Robert Smith poured kerosene through a funnel into the tank of one of the two heaters for his 17-by-12-foot cedar-shingled cabin, where he lives alone. The area is cluttered with machines, tools, wood and a boat.

When he gets home from his welding job at 5 p.m., “I have to go right to bed. What am I going to do? Sit in the dark?”

Smith said he’s afraid of running out of water. He said he got scared Wednesday when the wick on his old kerosene heater became kinked up and he couldn’t find a replacement anywhere.

“I thought, I’m really, really in trouble,” he said. His hands were freezing and his nose was running while he removed the old wick, straightened it out and installed it again. The job took about an hour.

He also bought a second kerosene heater, but his cluttered little makeshift house is still not warm and reeks of the fuel.

“Jeez, it gets awful smelly at night,” said Smith, a thin man with a gray, short-cropped beard and moustache. “My main problem is light. I walk around with a flashlight in my mouth.”

Smith’s mood shifted from frustration to anger as he explained that he couldn’t find a candle in this town or the next.

“Here is what I went over 20 miles to Steuben to get,” he said as he held up a fat, cream-colored candle in a glass dish.

“People have been calling and calling and calling” to get their power restored, said Smith, adding that he cannot understand why some areas have power and others don’t.

“They have street lights,” he said, pointing a long, thin arm to his left, “and they have street lights.” His other arm went out in the other direction.

“I don’t have lights for my bathroom. It doesn’t make any sense to me. If I had one, one light, I’d be happy.”

But, like the Hattos, a shelter is out of the question for Smith.

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