April 07, 2020

Storm emergency declared Winds cut off power to MDI

TRENTON – Nearly a day after a fierce fall storm first struck Maine, leaving tens of thousands of people without power, five utility poles on the only bridge connecting Mount Desert Island to the mainland snapped Sunday morning as gale-force wind gusts continued to slam into the shoreline.

The five poles, which angled low over the road and were kept from touching the pavement only by a guardrail, were casualties of a maelstrom of rain and wind that blew into Maine on Saturday, downing countless trees and power lines and stranding thousands of Maine residents without electricity.

In Aroostook County, strong winds tore off a large part of the roof of the Caribou Inn and Convention Center, but no one was hurt.

The storm prompted Gov. John Baldacci to declare a state of emergency in order to suspend federal time limits on how long power company workers can work at any one time. According to a statement issued by the governor’s office, more than 40,000 Mainers were without power Saturday night.

Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. shut off power Sunday morning to Mount Desert Island to let vehicles use one lane of traffic to pass back and forth safely across the bridge near the low-hanging power lines. The bridge later was closed to traffic entirely from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. as power company crews worked to raise the wires back out of the roadway and to restore power to the island. The road was reopened to single-lane traffic after 5:30 p.m., according to a Maine Department of Transportation official.

Several local officials in Hancock County said Sunday they could not remember the bridge ever having been closed down before for such a long period of time.

Baldacci was expected to meet with Bangor Hydro workers and with state and county emergency management officials Sunday evening at the bridge to discuss the situation, according to governor’s office spokesman Dan Cashman.

Earlier on Sunday, while in Belfast for a campaign appearance, the governor said he had been in communication with the power companies and that most people were expected to have electricity again by midday Monday.

“They’ve been working around the clock,” Baldacci said.

Rob Bennett, president and chief operating officer of Bangor Hydro, said Sunday morning that company crews had been working nonstop since Saturday afternoon to restore power to 28,000 of its customers who had lost electricity, most of them Down East.

“We restored power to two-thirds of them, but the wind has picked up again,” Bennett said, standing at the northern end of the Trenton Bridge as the wind howled through nearby power lines. “We’re back in the battle now.”

Kevin House, spokesman for Central Maine Power, said about 31,100 of that company’s customers were without power as of 3:45 p.m. Sunday.

“We have had a lot of outages today,” he said, adding to those wires knocked down Saturday.

Most of CMP’s outages occurred in the Brunswick area, House said, though 4,500 of its customers between Waldoboro and Bucksport were without power Sunday afternoon.

Lee Foster, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou, said Sunday that several gusts exceeding 60 mph were recorded along the coast during the storm and that one as high as 79 mph was reported in Sedgwick. That’s faster than hurricane-force winds, which have to have sustained speeds – not gusts – of at least 74 mph.

“That’s why you get some trees down and not a lot of trees down,” Foster said of the gusts. “It was an extreme event down there [on the coast].”

Other wind gusts in coastal Hancock and Washington counties ranged from 54 mph in Bar Harbor to 69 mph at West Quoddy Head, while in Aroostook County wind gusts in the high 40-mph range were recorded, Foster said. A typical windy day has speeds of 20 to 30 mph, he said.

In Caribou, a 10,000-square-foot section of the roof over the swimming pool at the Caribou Inn and Convention Center blew off around 3 a.m. and landed on an adjacent lawn, a spokesman for the inn said Sunday afternoon. No one was injured in the incident and the cost of damage had yet to be estimated, he said.

Bangor Hydro issued several counts, each greater than the one before, on Sunday as it kept updating its figures for how many customers were without power. As of 2 p.m., it had nearly 21,000 customers without power, most of them on Mount Desert Island. Almost 3,300 Penobscot County customers had no electricity, and 3,600 more in Washington County also were without power.

According to Bennett, company crews were busy all over the state because of the storm. Bangor Hydro’s parent company, Nova Scotia-based Emera, was sending 12 line crews from the Canadian province to help with the effort, he said.

Bennett said Mount Desert Island has lost power in other storms but he was unsure whether Bangor Hydro ever had to shut off power to the entire island before. He said the company often temporarily shuts off power in limited areas out of safety concerns in emergencies such as car accidents or storm events.

In Bangor, police closed Kenduskeag Plaza to parking Saturday afternoon in anticipation of possible flooding, but no problems occurred. Minor flooding was reported in the Piscataquis County towns of Abbot and Dover-Foxcroft, but none that caused any damage.

There were few reports of boats coming loose from their moorings, including the Miss T.C., which ran aground in the river just behind Helen’s Restaurant in Machias. A spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard said the federal agency had no reports of serious incidents during the storm.

In southern Maine, a 70 mph gust of wind was recorded in Cape Elizabeth at the height of the storm. The high winds sent a 165-foot construction crane tumbling into three multiunit houses near Maine Medical Center in Portland, but no one was hurt.

One to 3 inches of rain fell throughout the eastern part of the state, according to Foster, the meteorologist.

Not everyone was dissatisfied with the storm because it disrupted their electricity supply, however. Jeremy Cass of Thorndike tried surfing Saturday afternoon off Acadia National Park’s Otter Point but was unhappy with the quality of the waves.

“It wasn’t conducive” to fun surfing, Cass said of the storm’s effect just after he had returned to shore. He stood over his surfboard in the stinging wind and rain, wearing a black bodysuit as he spoke in a small parking lot off Ocean Drive.

Cass, 28, said he has been surfing for 17 years and that he has experienced unsafe situations before. He came in Saturday before he felt he was in danger, he said.

“It wasn’t good,” he said.

Bangor Daily News reporters Beurmond Banville, Katherine Cassidy, Aimee Dolloff, Tom Groening and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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