AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine utilities prepared Thursday to deal with widespread power outages from a winter storm that could coat tree limbs with an inch of ice in some areas, and the governor issued an emergency declaration allowing power crews from other states to help restore electricity.
Central Maine Power Co. was already reporting a few scattered outages shortly after 10 p.m. in Kittery, York, Belmont and Lincolnville. No outages were reported at that hour by Bangor Hydro-Electric Co.
The forecast called for ice accumulations of a half-inch along the coast and up to 1 inch a few miles inland, National Weather Service meteorologist John Cannon said. That’s enough to bring down limbs and power lines, and widespread outages were predicted.
The weather service posted a winter storm warning across the state for Thursday into today, with snow, sleet and freezing rain moving south to north through the state. In the mountains, up to a foot of snow is expected to accumulate before the storm passes by today.
“This combination can be tough on our crews and equipment,” said Central Maine Power spokesman John Carroll. “People see the damage storms like this can do, and they understand they can cause outages. Our crews will be there to put things back together, but we hope people will also take some simple steps to keep them-selves safe and comfortable.”
Some of those include keeping battery-operated flashlights and radios on hand, along with supplies of drinking water and nonperishable foods. Homeowners were also urged to use emergency heating sources safely and not to use grills or camp stoves indoors. Utilities repeated warnings not to touch downed power lines.
Bangor Hydro officials said customers should prepare for the possibility of loss of service, especially in northern and inland areas. The utility said all of its personnel were placed on standby in anticipation of outages.
Gov. John Baldacci signed an emergency declaration allowing power crews from other states to help restore electricity if needed. The declaration ensures crews can stay on the road to restore power and gives power companies more flexibility in pre-positioning repair crews.
He also asked Mainers to watch out for each other.
“If you have neighbors who are vulnerable or who could be at risk, check on them,” Baldacci said.
The first wave of freezing rain and sleet swept through the state Thursday morning, causing some highway mishaps. But that was only a precursor to the heavier precipitation.
As the evening commute got under way about 4 p.m., police began responding to another surge of accidents. Though dozens of accidents were reported as of early evening, none appeared to be serious.
Icy roads forced the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department to shut down a section of Route 1 near the Ellsworth-Hancock town line for a short time at rush hour Thursday night. Dispatchers said vehicles traveling in both directions were sliding on the slippery road and unable to get up the hill near the White Birches restaurant.
The road was reopened in one direction after a state crew sanded it. No serious accidents were reported at that time.
Seat belts and air bags saved a Howland woman and her 6-year-old son from severe injuries when their van reportedly slid on black ice, hit a utility pole and rolled over several times on Route 116 Thursday afternoon.
Carri Tuulima, 32, suffered minor injuries and was taken by East Millinocket’s ambulance service to Millinocket Regional Hospital as a precautionary measure, Penobscot County Deputy Sheriff Peter Stone said. Her son Joseph was not injured.
“She was coming down Route 116 a little quickly. The road had been sanded previously, but it was still a little icy,” Stone said.
By late Thursday night, however, it appeared most motorists were staying off the roads and that those who were driving were taking plenty of time to get to their destinations.
A Penobscot County dispatcher reported only a handful of fender benders, while a dispatcher for state police based out of the Orono barracks said they saw even fewer. He attributed the lack of accidents to the advance media coverage of the pending storm.
In Bangor, city police responded to reports of four accidents during the evening commute, none of them resulting in injury.
The Maine Department of Transportation planned to have crews out until the storm ended, a dispatcher in the Augusta radio room said. The exception was Aroostook County, where only snow was expected.
In addition, the reduced the speed limit on Interstate 95 from Carmel south to 45 mph and to 40 mph in Portland.
Municipal public works personnel also were expected to ride out the storm.
“We’ve got five [salt] trucks out right now,” a dispatcher at Bangor Public Works said Thursday evening. Crews were expected to be out overnight.
“Chances are very good that they will be waking the roosters to get them going in the morning,” the dispatcher said.
The storm also was creating problems for those traveling by air.
Portland International Jetport said most airlines were reporting delays or cancellations due to the weather system affecting most major East Coast airports. Bangor International Airiport also reported delays and cancellations.
Some schools closed early Thursday as the storm moved in, and many public meetings and events were postponed. In Bangor, an overnight downtown parking ban went into effect through 6 a.m. today.
Despite the ominous forecast, the storm was fast-moving and was expected to cause far less damage than the infamous ice storm of 1998, in which freezing rain and drizzle fell over a three-day period and knocked power out to hundreds of thousands of residents. Also, strong wind gusts weren’t expected to accompany the storm.