ELLSWORTH, Maine — Workers with power companies and multiple towns in eastern Maine were scrambling Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, trying to clear roads and restore power to thousands of people after a storm brought fierce winds through the state Tuesday night.
Some of the power outages were expected to last into today or longer.
Hardest hit among Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. customers were those in Hancock County, where more than 13,000 had no power Wednesday morning. Approximately 1,700 other Bangor Hydro customers lost electricity at some point in Penobscot, Piscataquis and Washington counties.
According to Central Maine Power, as many as 35,000 of their customers lost power during the storm. There still were more than 23,000 CMP customers without power by midafternoon Wednesday, of which 16,000 were in Knox and Waldo counties. At 5 p.m. Wednesday, CMP reported 11,475 customers still without power in the Rockland-Belfast area.
More than 8,600 Bangor Hydro customers were still without power at 5 p.m. Wednesday, most of them in Hancock County and some in Penobscot, Piscataquis and Washington counties.
Downed trees caused the closure of roads throughout coastal Maine, including several miles of Route 3 in Bar Harbor, which was blocked for several overnight hours and early Wednesday morning. At least eight boats were damaged in various locations along the coast when they either sank or washed ashore off their moorings, including the tour boat Seal in Bar Harbor, which is owned and operated by Eddie “Diver Ed” Monat, according to the Coast Guard. Monat’s boat washed ashore on Bar Island, the Coast Guard said.
There were no reports of injuries or property damage aside from the boats, leaving the power outages the most pressing concern.
Gov. John Baldacci signed an emergency declaration Tuesday night, which enabled electrical workers to extend their hours of service and allowed crews from other states and New Brunswick to help with repairs in Maine.
Bangor Hydro officials urged patience as crews worked to deal with outages, but they acknowledged that even with round-the-clock efforts, not everyone would have power restored for their Thanksgiving holiday.
“We began preparing for this on Monday,” Dan McCarthy, the company’s field operations manager, said Wednesday afternoon. “Unfortunately, many of our employees were on vacation and we had to bring many of them back. This [storm] caused extensive damage to our distribution system.”
Hancock County received the most attention Wednesday, where about 20 line crews and eight additional tree crews were sent, McCarthy said. Other crews, including those from New Brunswick, were dispatched throughout Bangor Hydro’s service area.
Bangor Hydro’s customer service department will be staffed until all power is restored, customer operations director Kim Wadleigh said Wednesday. A storm of this magnitude typically elicits as many as 20,000 calls, she said.
Ralph Pinkham, emergency management director in Hancock County, said power companies had teams out Tuesday night and Wednesday and were working to restore power as quickly as possible.
But it might take awhile, he said.
“We’re probably not going to get them all back online maybe until Friday,” Pinkham said. “We’re juggling as best we can.”
Pinkham said that despite the prognosis, there were no plans to open any shelters in Hancock County. Older people and those dependent on electrical medical equipment would be given priority, he said.
“We’re dealing with it on a case-by-case basis,” Pinkham said.
Officials in Knox and Waldo counties said Wednesday evening that no shelters were being opened in those counties. People who were looking for other places to stay while their power was out were being directed to the Red Cross, they said.
According to the National Weather Service, there were reported wind gusts of 67 mph in Brooklin, 61 mph in Jonesport and 74 mph in Sedgwick. On Matinicus Rock, about 20 miles off the coast, one gust was measured at 83 mph.
Lesser gusts, but still with gale-force speeds, were reported in CMP’s service area. Those gusts measured 53 mph in Rockland, 47 mph in Augusta, 45 mph in Brunswick and 41 mph in Lewiston.
In Bangor, the storm interrupted James and Becky Mountain’s dinner late Tuesday when a tree crashed onto their house.
“It sounded like a hurricane and then boom, the whole house shook,” James Mountain said Wednesday morning.
The boom was a tree that had buckled and splintered from heavy winds. It fell directly on the couple’s home on Warren Street, damaging the second story as well as a Lincoln that was parked in the driveway. The tree was still there Wednesday afternoon.
“I don’t know if anyone is going to come remove it or not,” Mountain said.
“Thank God no one was injured,” Becky Mountain added.
Bangor Hydro officials stressed their concern for people’s safety.
“When we have this much damage, it can create a very dangerous situation,” said Janet Scully, a safety specialist with Bangor Hydro. “People should stay away from down lines. If they see one down on a road, they should never drive over it.”
In Hancock County on Wednesday afternoon, many town crews were still cleaning up from the storm. On Mount Desert Island, several trees and a power pole in Somesville came down, knocking power out to most of the western side of the island. Debris littered Oak Hill Road, where crews from Bar Harbor were still trying to get trees out of the road, while Southwest Harbor and Tremont remained without electricity.
“We are still without power,” said Southwest Harbor Town Manager Robin Bennett, who added that the town office has some electricity thanks to a generator. When people might get their power back “we just don’t know,” she said.
In neighboring Tremont, Town Clerk McKenzie Clough said residents were hoping to get their power back at least by this morning.
“We’ve heard anywhere from today to two days from now,” Clough said Wednesday. “Everyone is talking about [how they’re going to cook] their turkey.”
In Blue Hill, Road Commissioner David Cousins said he was still trying to clear downed trees from roads. But many of those trees would have to stay where they were, he said, until Bangor Hydro came along to deal with power lines they were touching.
“I hope everybody gets power back for Thanksgiving,” Cousins said. “That would be a big help for everyone.”
Pinkham said he hoped people without power would still find a way to enjoy Thanksgiving, whether it’s the home-cooked food or the football games on television that they like the most.
“Hopefully, they have propane-powered Fryolators,” Pinkham said.
BDN writer Eric Russell in Bangor and The Associated Press contributed to this report.