Fourteen days after the Ice Storm of ’98 bore down on New England, Maine power companies say it should be less than a week before all ice-related outages are fixed.
Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. officials are even more optimistic. Spokesman Bill Cohen said Wednesday that the fewer than 25 customers remaining with open service orders related to the storm should have their power restored by today. The affected customers are almost entirely from rural Hancock County.
“For these people’s sake I’d hope to get it done tonight or in the morning,” Cohen said Wednesday afternoon. “These last few folks have to know that they’re not forgotten.”
Central Maine Power Co. has brought its numbers down to just over 8,600 — with the majority of the affected customers in Augusta, Bridgton and Lewiston.
Both companies said the final stage of the restoration effort is going slowly. With most major transmission lines repaired, power crews have turned their efforts to fixing smaller clusters of homes in predominantly rural areas.
“Our goal is to get to 99 percent by Friday,” said CMP spokesman Mark Ishkanian. “That would leave a couple thousand for the weekend.”
He added, however, that this weekend’s dire weather forecast could further stall the process. A winter storm is predicted for the state beginning Friday.
Applications for disaster assistance almost doubled Wednesday. Registrations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency topped 4,600. Of the number, a little more than 1,000 came from businesses. The rest came from residences.
“What we see the most are applications related to property loss or people who bought items because of the storm, like generators,” said FEMA spokeswoman Wendy Meador. Those interested in receiving aid should call FEMA between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. at 1-800-462-9029.
Residents forced into shelters by the loss of power are returning to their homes in large numbers. As of Wednesday, 69 people were staying in 23 shelters around the state.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Human Services began accepting applications for one-time food stamp benefits due to the storm. Outages ruined food in many people’s refrigerators and freezers.
Under temporary rules, households may receive assistance if they lost property or income as a result of the disaster. Extra food stamps will be mailed to those who do not receive maximum benefits already.
A half-ton of potatoes was being sent from Aroostook County, which was not as severely affected by the ice storm, to shelters and food pantries in the Augusta area.
Rep. Julie Ann O’Brien, R-Augusta, said stocks of food at area shelters and pantries were strained by the power outage.
Mainers who lost work because of the ice storm are also eligible for special unemployment benefits.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.