BANGOR — Power restoration efforts will continue this week in areas where Ice Storm ’98 unleashed its greatest fury, and it could be springtime before electricity will again flow to some summer homes in Maine.
But by Sunday afternoon fewer than 10 percent of Mainers thrust into cold darkness a fortnight ago by the worst ice storm in memory remained in the dark, and recovery efforts were beginning to shift focus from emergency management to long-term disaster relief.
Gov. Angus King, interviewed on NBC’s “Today” program in front of his Brunswick home Sunday, said that Maine utilities were going all-out to reconnect those still without electricity and that dramatic progress had been made.
About 30,254 Central Maine Power customers remained without power Sunday evening, down from 275,000 immediately after the storm. In the Skowhegan and Dover areas, power was completely restored on Saturday, and the out-of-state line and tree crews who had been working there were sent to help elsewhere.
The greatest outages continue to be in Augusta, Bridgton and Lewiston.
CMP estimated that the majority of customers should be reconnected in the next few days, but restoration efforts are expected to extend through most of this week.
“We’re at the very labor-intensive part of this effort and despite the large work force in place, this next stage will take time,” said CMP spokesman Mark Ishkanian.
As of Sunday, more than 2,500 repair workers were on the job.
Hundreds of unoccupied summer homes also still need repair. “That effort could easily stretch into the spring,” Ishkanian said, “given the remote locations and severe tree damage involved.”
The falling number of outages allowed CMP to switch back to its normal telephone system Sunday afternoon, which will allow customers to speak directly to a service representative who will then be able to give them some information on the repair effort in their area. CMP had been using an automated system so that emergency callers would not have to wait in line. The impersonal system frustrated some customers as time wore on.
Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. had hoped to have all power restored by Sunday night, but spokesman Bill Cohen reported Sunday afternoon that 350 of its nearly 50,000 customers initially left powerless by the ice storm were still without electricity.
Most of the outages — 250 homes — were in the Hancock division, with 75 powerless households in the Bangor division and 25 in the Machias division. Cohen said the company expects to complete the restoration today.
Customers still without electricity are urged to post signs on their homes that will let repair crews know their power is out. Homeowners should remove any signs as soon as power is restored.
The Maine National Guard continues to support the state’s recovery effort, according to Capt. Susan Wallace. About 640 Air and Army Guard troops remained on duty Sunday clearing downed trees and limbs, running emergency generators and helping as needed. All but 100 of them were citizen-soldiers called into state active duty during the last 10 days specifically to support the disaster-relief effort the Guard has dubbed Operation Ice Guard ’98.
National Guard support is about half what it was at the height of the emergency. With power returned, or soon to return, to many homes, recovery efforts initially geared toward the most basic survival needs are now giving way to long-term disaster relief efforts.
Fewer than 40 shelters remained open across the state Sunday, housing 331 people. Nine are American Red Cross shelters; the rest are being run by local governments. Those numbers are down from nearly 200 shelters serving as many as 3,000 people at the height of the crisis.
For those who have returned to warm and brightly lit homes, however, there is a continuing risk: roof collapse from heavy buildup of ice and snow.
American Red Cross workers Sunday reported seeing numerous roofs bending from the weight of the packed ice and a new layer of snow that fell over the weekend. The agency is advising people to have their roofs cleared.
As Mainers continue to assess the damage wrought by the ice to their homes and businesses, they can turn to several state and federal resources for help.
The State of Maine Ice Storm Helpline, for instance, will be activated today. It will be operated by the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management.
“As people begin to resume normal operation, the state’s help line will provide a central source to which people can turn for information,” said John W. Libby, state coordinating officer for the disaster recovery effort.
The toll-free help line number is 1-888-294-1645. For those who are hearing- or speech-impaired, the help line can be contacted, also toll-free, through the Maine Relay Service, at TTY 955-3323.
The helpline will be answered between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Operators will answer questions about the disaster assistance process, about how to get immediate emergency assistance and about how people can help others recover. Referrals will also be made to state, federal or voluntary agencies that may be able to help.
The hot line continues the effort begun by Portland’s WCSH-TV, which launched its Neighbor Helping Neighbor Helpline in the immediate aftermath of the storm. WCSH will transfer its records to the state.
The Maine ice storm help line will be staffed by employees of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, members of the Maine National Guard, and employees of other state departments “on loan” for the effort. Many of these same people fielded the hundreds of calls to the state emergency operations center throughout the emergency.
Help is also available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The toll-free number to apply for federal assistance is 1-800-462-9029 (TTY 1-800-462-7585. FEMA officials emphasized Sunday that anyone in need of assistance must first call that number. Additional information on federal programs and disaster assistance is available by calling 1-800-525-0321 (TTY 1-800-660-8005).
As of Saturday, 698 Mainers had registered for individual assistance from FEMA, according to FEMA spokesperson Ben McKelway, while 339 loan applications had been requested from the Small Business Administration.
SBA disaster loans are available to residents and business owners in the 16 Maine counties declared disaster areas last week by President Clinton. The agency opened a disaster loan workshop in Lewiston Saturday, and will today open a second workshop at the District Courthouse in Bangor.
“The workshops are staffed with experienced disaster recovery personnel prepared to answer questions, give instructions and assist disaster victims with the registration and application process,” said SBA regional administrator Patrick McGowan.
SBA offers loans of up to $200,000 to repair damage to primary residences. Homeowners and renters are eligible for up to $40,000 to replace personal property such as furniture and clothing. Loans to businesses and nonprofit organizations of up to $1.5 million are also available to repair damages to such things as real estate, iventory, machinery and equipment.
Economic Injury Disaster Loans are available to small businesses unable to pay bills or meet operating expenses because of the disaster. These loans do not cover physical damages.
Interest rates on SBA disaster loans can be as low as 3.12 percent with terms extending up to 30 years.
Federal assistance is also available to county and municipal governments, as well as some nonprofit organizations that operate educational, utility, emergency, medical, custodial care and other essential government services.
Because disasters take no holidays, several offices that normally would have been closed today in observance of Martin Luther King Day will instead remain open to continue assisting storm victims.
The Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross on Mildred Avenue in Bangor will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the Maine Department of Labor’s unemployment insurance call centers will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. so that people can file unemployment claims.