A half-million homes and businesses in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont were without power Friday as a massive ice storm dropped trees and power lines all over the region. Taxed utilities said the number of outages could rise and many people might not get their lights back on until next week.
In Maine, Central Maine Power spokeswoman Gail Rice delivered the grim news that it would take until next week to restore power for all customers. As of late Friday morning, CMP had more than 215,000 customers in the dark, mostly in southern and coastal areas.
Bangor Hydro Electric Co. was reporting 12,056 outages as of late morning.
Across the region, courts, schools and businesses were closed.
Several shelters were opened, including Goffstown, N.H, and Windham, Saco and Boothbay in Maine, emergency management officials said.
Fire departments all over the region responded through the morning to reports of wires and utility poles down, trees catching fire after striking wires and trees falling on homes. Adding to the misery: street flooding in many communities.
The National Weather Service said pockets of Maine got up to 1 inch of ice, which weighed down trees and caused power lines and poles to snap.
Central Maine Power Co. reports the number of outages is likely to continue rising through the day. The damage is most severe in southern and coastal areas from York County to the Penobscot Bay region where well over half the customers have lost power in some counties.
“We will be putting all our efforts today into making sure that downed wires are de-energized to protect the public,” said CMP spokesman John Carroll. “We do not expect to be able to start any restoration work before Saturday, so we urge anyone who is without power this afternoon or loses power over the course of the day to prepare for at least one night without power. By our best estimate right now, this restoration is likely to last well into next week in many areas. We need our customers to understand that they should prepare for several days or more without power.”
Christina Conway, 39, of Kennebunk, Maine, said the cracking sounds of limbs breaking off a tall pine tree made for a long night.
“It kept us up throughout the night,” she said. “I haven’t even been to bed. These weren’t even branches, it was limbs coming off this thing and smacking the apartment building on the roof.”
Amtrak canceled the morning departures of the Downeaster train that runs from Portland to Boston.
In Maine, CMP contacted utilities in neighboring states and Canadian provinces, but it wasn’t clear when assistance would be available because the storm had affected other states as well.
“It’s a serious situation but the response is under way and it’s robust,” said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman from the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
“It’s a mess,” said spokesman Jim Van Dongen at New Hampshire’s Office of Emergency Management. “A lot of secondary roads are closed, because trees and limbs have fallen on them.”
New Hampshire was the hardest hit in northern New England by the storm that brought rain, freezing rain, sleet and snow through the night. The mix was continuing Friday.
New Hampshire utilities reported 326,000 homes and businesses without power in New Hampshire, including 230,000 served by the state’s largest utility, Public Service Company of New Hampshire. More than 210,000 homes and businesses in Maine and nearly 26,000 in Vermont also were in the dark late Friday morning.
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch declared a state of emergency and Maine Gov. John Baldacci a limited emergency allowing utility crews to work longer hours.
Utility crews were so busy dealing with public safety hazards like live power lines that they weren’t immediately able to begin restoration efforts.
In Hampstead, N.H., Mark Cegelis, 36, said things were hectic at his neighborhood gas station, which was jammed with people trying to get gas for home generators.
“It’s kind of lawless out there right now. There’s a lot of people very frustrated, stacking up at the gas stations. It’s pretty ugly.”
He bought 21 gallons for himself and tried to deliver some to some friends in Derry but couldn’t get there because of downed trees blocking roads. So his friends came to him instead, and were expected to hunker down until power was restored.
Cegelis has a wife and two children, his parents live downstairs, and a friend of his mother’s was expected to bring her air mattress and join them as well.
“So nine people here. But you know what? We’ve got the juice, and we’re willing to let these folks come in. I’m sure they’d do the same thing for us,” he said. “It’s treacherous out there.”
At Jeanne’s Market in Henniker, the power was out but Cynthia Roberts, 25, was boiling water for coffee on a wood-burning stove and using a calculator to make sales. About two dozen customers had come in by mid-morning.
“They’re all pretty happy — they’re happy we have coffee,” she said.
In Vermont, 25,800 customers were without power Friday morning, mostly in southern Vermont. Several inches of snow, caked with ice toppled trees onto roads and power lines.
Problems were reported on Interstate 91 in southern Vermont and a section of Route 9 between Bennington and Brattleboro was closed due to icy conditions.
“It’s going to be such a moving target today that people are going to have to be on the watch for road closure signs,” said Vermont Emergency Management spokesman Mark Bosma.———
Associated Press writers Clarke Canfield in Portland, Maine, and John Curran in Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this report.