Parts of Maine declared disaster areas

Posted Dec. 15, 2008, at 10:08 p.m.

Balmy weather Monday melted ice-encased trees and soothed the nerves of some northern New Englanders who have gone without power since Thursday night’s ice storm.

“Finally, everyone is walking around in the neighborhood. It is so nice,” said 62-year-old Hooksett, N.H., resident JoAnn Trudeau, who hasn’t had power since Friday morning.

In Maine, President Bush issued an emergency declaration after the storm that left more than 220,000 homes and businesses in the state without electricity at the peak.

Monday’s declaration followed similar actions in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, allowing the federal government to release supplies to Maine. The request covers York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties.

Bush declared a state of emergency in New Hampshire and in nine of Massachusetts’ 14 counties, directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide relief assistance.

Central Maine Power said about 30,000 homes and businesses still were without power Monday morning. Most of them were in York County in southern Maine. Spokesman John Carroll said CMP expects to have power fully restored sometime Wednesday.

“As the area with outages shrinks, we move more and more crews into the remaining towns,” said Carroll. “At the start of this storm, our crews were covering 445 towns from Kittery to Bucksport to Jackman. By this point, we’ve nearly doubled our number of crews, and they’re concentrated in 40 towns in the southern tip of the state.”

In Sanford, CMP line worker Steve Johnson’s crew still was restoring power along main lines and hadn’t even made it into any neighborhoods.

“We’re doing everything we can,” said Johnson, who gets peppered with questions from residents whenever his truck arrives at a work site. “Be patient. We’ll get ’em on as soon as we can.”

Even before the storm, Gov. Baldacci made a limited state-of-emergency declaration, allowing utility workers to put in extra hours.

CMP crews are working 17-hour shifts, followed by seven hours of rest. “Adrenaline takes over after a while,” Johnson said.

Hundreds of utility crews from as far away as South Carolina worked through the weekend to turn on the lights — and more importantly, power to furnaces and wells — to New Hampshire customers, leaving 153,109 still without electricity as of Monday night. At its peak, the number of outages in the state was about 430,000.

Outside temperatures soared above 50 degrees, making it warmer outside than inside some dark apartments and houses.

For some — like Trudeau — the lights could come on soon. Utility crews were at the intersection near her house, she said as she came out of an American Red Cross shelter at Southern New Hampshire University.

For others, the wait will be much longer.

All schools in the Mascenic Regional School District are closed until Jan. 5. The district serves New Ipswich, Greenville and Mason in southern New Hampshire.

Meredith Lund, the town’s public information officer, said everything in the town is on well water, there’s no electricity and all roads are open to local access only. Public Service Co. of New Hampshire is estimating power will not be restored to the town for about two weeks, she said.

Meanwhile, the Central Vermont Public Service Corp. estimated it will cost $3 million to repair storm damage. CVPS and Green Mountain Power were reporting about 6,300 customers — mostly in Windham County — were still without power Monday morning.

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas is declaring the state’s four southern counties disaster areas because of damage suffered in last week’s ice storm. The state declaration also will form the basis for an application for federal disaster relief funding if eligibility thresholds are met.

Vermont officials estimate it could be the middle of the week before all customers have their power back.

As power was restored, the American Red Cross started to close shelters in New Hampshire. Spokeswoman Lisa Michaud said fewer are needing shelter as the days go along.

“We expect the numbers to drop significantly across the state today,” she said.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch urged residents without power to seek warmth Monday night at state and local shelters. He estimated 780 people stayed in 51 shelters Sunday night.

By midmorning, workers outnumbered shelter residents at Southern New Hampshire University. Many had gone to work, though workers said they expected perhaps 10 back for lunch.

Maureen Hemeon, 41, of Hooksett asked Michaud for help moving her disabled parents, Clarence Hemeon, 79, and Patricia, 78, out of the shelter to her apartment. The couple had been there since Friday, and Maureen was having trouble finding an ambulance service to transport them.

Michaud of the American Red Cross tried to help, but ran into the same hurdles as Maureen Hemeon.

“I don’t want him billed for this,” a frustrated Michaud told one ambulance service. “He’s had enough hardship. I need this to be a freebie.”

Eventually, Laurel Center Genesis Health Care volunteered to help.

Trudeau, who spent a night huddled next to a propane fireplace, came to the Manchester shelter to take a shower.

“My grandmother used to take her ax to Concord by bus to get it sharpened and go home and chop wood for the wood stove. How can we complain?” she said.

In Derry, N.H., Tom Guyette was one of three residents of his eight-unit apartment house still sticking it out. The disabled Marine veteran said they had arranged a careful system of running a propane heater for 10 minutes at a time and ensuring proper ventilation, and was using a gas grill outside to make coffee, boiled eggs and Spam.

“We’re still manning the fort. We haven’t been relieved of our duties, so we ain’t leavin’ yet,” he said. “There’s a lot more people that have a lot less than we do, so for us to take spaces where women and children could be is wrong.

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