BANGOR — Utility and tree crews worked in bitter cold and snow Friday, continuing their efforts to restore power to the nearly 60,000 Maine households still without electricity.
Five military cargo planes carrying utility crews and equipment from North Carolina were diverted Friday from the Brunswick Naval Air Station to Bangor International Airport because of weather conditions in Brunswick, according to Col. Carl Sanborn of the Maine Army National Guard.
About 16 line crews, 30 tree crews and several support vehicles from North Carolina arrived in Maine Thursday and Friday along with crews from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
The Southern power workers who arrived in the morning were met by near-blinding snow as they prepared to begin working with crews from Central Maine Power.
Those who arrived in Bangor drove to Augusta to be briefed and clothed by CMP officials.
On Friday, CMP was coordinating the efforts of 2,300 people in the field working directly with service restoration.
“We’re going to work right through this storm and we hope to make significant progress today,” CMP spokesman Mark Ishkanian said. “We are asking drivers to please slow down when approaching utility trucks on the side of the road. We are also asking that customers let our crews do their work and not engage them in conversation.”
The storm dropped 4 to 8 inches of snow on parts of the state, and utility workers were driving through near-whiteout conditions to get to downed power lines.
State and local plow trucks were diverted to assist utility workers in the restoration efforts, leaving some roads slushy and snow-covered for longer than usual.
Meredith Finn of CMP said company employees and state auto dealerships had loaned four-wheel-drive vehicles and “anything with a plow on it” to the company to aid crews in getting to some of the more isolated areas that remained without power.
Power officials urged plow drivers to be extra cautious during snow removal efforts.
“Snow could conceal lines lying on pavement or walks. Even if not energized, they could cause injury or damage equipment if snagged by a plow or snow thrower. … Snow-plow operators should be alert for broken or drooping lines as they make their rounds. Apart from the possible electric hazard, a plow truck fouling a line could pull down a pole,” a CMP warning issued Friday morning stated.
The storm led two other New England utilities to withdraw some of the crews sent to assist CMP so those companies could deal with outages to customers in their own states.
At noon Friday, CMP still had 57,330 of its 500,000 customers without electricity, while Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. reported 2,250 of its 110,000 customers still without power.
The following CMP districts remained without power Friday evening: 4,300 in Alfred; 13,000 in Augusta; 11,500 in Bridgton; 1,500 in Brunswick; 75 in Dover Foxcroft; 170 in Farmington; 10,300 in Lewiston; 3,900 in Portland; 7,250 in Rockland and Belfast; 236 in Skowhegan; and 5,100 in Waterville.
Enough power had been restored to the Bangor area Friday to allow the Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross to close the shelter at the Air National Guard Base in Bangor.
On Friday, Bangor Hydro had crews working to restore power to customers still without power in the Bangor division, specifically areas in Newburgh, Hermon, Dedham, Lucerne, Lucerne Lake, Phillips Lake, Holden Pond, Eddington Pond, Parks Pond, Bucksport and Clifton.
About 800 customers remained without electricity in the Bangor area Friday evening.
In the Hancock County region, where 770 households remained without electricity Friday, crews worked in Eastbrook, Sedgwick, Blue Hill, Otis, Ellsworth, Great Pond, Toddy Pond, Donnell Pond and Georges Pond.
Bangor Hydro crews also worked to restore power to 800 customers in the Down East area, and on Friday worked in Centerville, Lubec, Milbridge and Cherryfield.
By Friday afternoon the National Guard had completed clearing away eight miles of snapped utility poles in Washington County, and Bangor Hydro spokesman Bill Cohen said crews may start to drill the holes for replacement poles during the weekend.
The storm is taking its toll on the tempers of some people, many of whom are into their 10th day without power.
CMP hired off-duty police officers at its offices earlier this week because of threats made related to power outages, Ishkanian said. He declined to provide details, saying he did not want to give the issue more exposure.
“Obviously, it’s a small minority of people, but we’ve got to take prudent steps in response to it,” Ishkanian said.
Finn said angry customers have yelled at her over the telephone wanting to know why their neighbors had power but they did not.
“It’s the technology,” Finn said. “It’s hard for people to understand how one street can be restored and a street next to it is not. What it actually has to do with is what circuit it’s plugged in to.”
Some hospitals say they have noticed an increase in heart attacks and other illnesses exacerbated by stress. And the lack of power has been partly blamed for at least one violent crime, a nonfatal stabbing on a Hallowell street, near Augusta.
“Things that people otherwise would not become confrontational about are causing people to get into arguments, these type of things,” Augusta Police Chief Wayne McCamish said.
Dr. David Stuchiner, director of emergency medicine at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, said his emergency staff has seen a 50 percent to 60 percent increase in its workload since the storm began.
“People are testy, but I don’t think we’ve seen yet the increase in spousal abuse or violence that we might expect later if this continues,” Stuchiner said.
A team from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is in Maine doing research on the health problems caused by the prolonged power outage.
The Maine Department of Labor announced Friday that the federal government was making Disaster Unemployment Assistance available in Maine.
DUA is designed to provide temporary partial income replacement to people who may not generally qualify for other unemployment insurance. This could include dairy farmers, small-business owners, other farmers, loggers, day care providers, commissioned brokers and agents, and other self-employed individuals.
Applications for DUA must be filed by Feb. 15, and more information is available through the state Department of Labor at 287-3788.
Also the Department of Labor reported that some people were unable to file their unemployment claims because of the high volume of calls coming into the unemployment call centers.
The department said Friday that people who were unable to reach the call center this week can call next week and file a retroactive claim. The call centers will be open Monday, Jan. 19.
Staffers at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday registered 257 Mainers who may be eligible for federal disaster relief. So far, 467 people have registered since Thursday, according to Jerry Durnbaugh of FEMA.
The number to register for financial assistance is 1-800-462-9029 or 1-800-462-7585 for the hearing impaired.
“The first step in this process is registration and the only way to do that is to call that number. To qualify for any program or assistance, people must call that number,” he said.
The FEMA office will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. throughout the weekend and the holiday, and again next week.
Blankets and drinking water donated by out-of-state businesses were handed out at the Bangor Mall on Friday night and will be available today as long as supplies last.