June 16, 2019

Washington County coast in dark for 8 hours

MACHIAS – More than 7,100 Washington County customers of Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. found themselves without power for nearly eight hours Thursday afternoon and evening.

For homes and businesses in a region covering Machias to Lubec and north to Pembroke, power was lost at 1:01 p.m. and restored at 8:49 p.m.

An equipment failure at the Jonesboro substation was the cause of the outage, according to the utility. It initially tripped two more lines in Harrington and Eastport affecting 2,000 more households and businesses.

The majority of those customers were back on line by 1:30 p.m., with the rest getting power back by 4:20 p.m., according to Bethany McKnight, Bangor Hydro communications officer.

But 7,114 more coastal customers endured an evening of darkness, save for the few facilities that operated on generators, such as the Washington County Jail and the Down East Community Hospital.

When hallways grew dark at the Washington County Courthouse, employees were sent home at 2:15 p.m. But at the other end of Court Street, students at Machias Memorial High School didn’t have their day cut short, finishing their final hour before buses arrived at the usual time, also 2:15 p.m.

Homes slipped into shadows by late afternoon, when early estimates by Bangor Hydro put a return to power at 6:30 p.m., then 8 p.m. By 8, the time was set back until midnight – which is what callers to the county’s regional communications center learned when they wanted to know when to expect power again.

Other than those calls, RCC officials said, there were no emergency situations connected to the outage.

Estimates of when lights and heat would return circulated among patrons of places that stayed open, despite the darkness. On Main Street in Machias, that included AJ’s Bar and Grill, the Machias On the Run convenience store and gas station, the Blue Bird Ranch Family Restaurant and Helen’s Restaurant.

Hungry people came out of their homes, eager to share the odd experience with others.

“There’s a lot of people looking for something for supper,” said Forrest Robbins, On the Run’s assistant manager. “We can do everything with the exception of pizza. No oven, no pizza.”

Gas sales, too, were “crazy,” the manager said, because On the Run became the only pumps in town to stay open.

At Helen’s, customers carried on by candlelight. Two cooks in the kitchen worked off the gas grills. Waitresses served on paper and plastic plates, and dishes were done by hand.

A backroom group of 20 – the Machiasport Volunteer Fire Department and their families – were gathered for a Christmas party. They ordered off the menu, with nearly no restrictions.

“No BLTs or toasted turkey clubs,” said Nora Jordan, who has cooked at Helen’s for 17 years. “And they can have french fries or mashed potatoes, just not baked.”

At the University of Maine at Machias, generators provided limited light – but not in the Performing Arts Center, where a play was supposed to open. Some people arrived for the 7 p.m. curtain, but were sent home by the cast of “1959 Pink Thunderbird” and Lee Rose, the production’s director.

“The show must go on, but not tonight,” Rose said. “We were all here at 5:30 in hopes that the lights would come on.”

The play, about a Vietnam War veteran’s return home to a small town in Texas, will take place both this evening and Saturday.

Correction: A story in the Dec. 9 State section concerning the Thursday evening power outage in Washington County should have included Tom’s MiniMart as a second store in Machias open for food and gas sales because of its generator.

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