Year’s largest storm cuts power to 145,000

Posted Feb. 23, 2009, at 9:58 p.m.
&quotI could do with less," said Peter Hicks of the snowfall Monday morning, Feb. 23, 2009 that walloped the state leaving more than a foot in the Bangor area and knocking out power to more than 140,000 residents throughout the state. Hicks is a neighbor and congregant of Grace United Methodist Church where he was shoveling.  Buy Photo
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
"I could do with less," said Peter Hicks of the snowfall Monday morning, Feb. 23, 2009 that walloped the state leaving more than a foot in the Bangor area and knocking out power to more than 140,000 residents throughout the state. Hicks is a neighbor and congregant of Grace United Methodist Church where he was shoveling. Buy Photo
Mike Morcom of Orono rakes snow from the roof of his Broadway home in the early afternoon of Monday, February 23, 2009, as his dog Argus plays in the background.  Morcom, a teacher,  spent last week vacationing in California.  &quotThere was no snow in San Jose," he chuckled.   Buy Photo
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KATE COLLINS
Mike Morcom of Orono rakes snow from the roof of his Broadway home in the early afternoon of Monday, February 23, 2009, as his dog Argus plays in the background. Morcom, a teacher, spent last week vacationing in California. "There was no snow in San Jose," he chuckled. Buy Photo

The largest winter storm of the season barreled through Maine on Sunday and Monday, blanketing many areas in more than 2 feet of wet, heavy snow and knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses.

The National Weather Service in Caribou reported Monday evening that a band stretching from Dover-Foxcroft to Houlton had received the heaviest snowfall, according to preliminary reports. The town of Milo in Piscataquis County had received 29.1 inches by Monday evening.

Other impressive amounts recorded Monday in Maine included 25 inches in Orient, 25 inches in Bridgton and 28 inches in Monson, according to the weather service. The highest wind gust of 65 mph was recorded in Cutler, and Houlton

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recorded a gust of 55 mph on Monday morning.

“With the wind, it’s been hard to get the best measurements of snow,” said meteorologist Mal Walker of NWS. “We have over a dozen reports of greater than 2 feet of snow.”

Blowing and drifting snow made for treacherous driving conditions throughout the region, while wind gusts of 30 mph to more than 60 mph kept utility workers busy all day Monday.

At midday, more than 145,000 utility customers throughout Maine lacked electricity as wet, heavy snow snapped tree limbs, power lines and utility poles overnight. An estimated 127,000 utility customers remained without electricity Monday evening.

Bangor Hydro reported that more than 11,000 customers were without power as of 5 p.m. Monday, with nearly all of those in Hancock and Washington counties.

The Maine Emergency Management Agency said about 10 warming shelters have been set up around the state. Some residents who lack power should prepare for the possibility that it might not be restored until Wednesday, according to Susan Falloon, spokeswoman for Bangor Hydro-Electric.

Faloon described repairs as slow going because many of the outages were along the smaller distribution lines rather than larger transmission lines. The work was complicated by deep and heavy snow, and poor road conditions. While crews were working all day to restore power, reports of additional outages continued coming in throughout Monday because of the persistent winds, she said.

Six utility crews from Vermont were expected to arrive in Maine on Tuesday to help with repairs. Bangor Hydro was awaiting word from crews in other states and Canada on whether they could lend any workers.

“We have asked for assistance from pretty much anywhere we can get it,” Faloon said.

In Down East areas served by Eastern Maine Electric Co-op of Calais, about 750 members lost power during Monday’s storm. Callers began to report outages across the area at approximately 2:30 a.m., but power had been restored to all EMEC customers by 9:30 a.m.

Gov. John Baldacci declared a state of emergency extending the hours that power crews can work to restore electricity. Baldacci, who was in Washington attending a National Governors Association conference, decided to return to Maine on Monday afternoon.

Tens of thousands of homes in Vermont and New Hampshire also lost power during the storm. And Vermont authorities were forced to close northbound Interstate 89 between Waterbury and Richmond late Monday morning because of accidents, the Vermont State Police said.

“We’re having a hell of a time right now,” said Larry Dodge, a Vermont Transportation Agency dispatcher.

Snow fell at a rate of 3 to 4 inches per hour in some parts of Maine on Monday, prompting hundreds of schools across the state to give children an extra day off after a weeklong winter break. The University of Maine also canceled all daytime classes and state offices opened late.

Blinding snow and gusting winds didn’t need to knock out power to cause problems in Greenville, where town officials estimated that nearly 3 feet of snow had piled up by 3 p.m. NWS meteorologists could not confirm that figure Monday evening.

“We’ve struggled but we’re getting it accomplished,” Greenville Town Manager John Simko said Monday afternoon of opening up the roads. “At one point, all three plow trucks were stuck simultaneously.”

Simko said town employees had to bring in other heavy equipment to remove the trucks from the deep snow. What made matters worse, he said, was the earlier warmer temperatures last week left a buildup of ice beneath the snow and the strong winds that blew in with the storm left whiteout conditions for much of the early morning.

“It’s probably the biggest challenge of the season,” said Simko, who added that extra help was called in to assist the public works crew. “It’s a real challenge but everybody’s pitching in doing what they can.”

In Milo, Tom Haley said the pile of plowed and shoveled snow outside Bailey Lumber Co. grew to 30 feet tall. Most people took the storm in stride, he said.

“It took just as long to shovel it out as the last time — and we’re still waiting for spring,” Haley said during a break from work. “We’ve had enough.”

About 15 miles away in Dover-Foxcroft, the snow piled up so fast that some of the 100,000 Christmas trees grown at the Finest Kind farm disappeared from view.

“The little ones are just barely peeking up through the drifts,” owner Jim LaCasce said of the 3- to 4-foot trees.

The blowing snow and slush-covered roads that the storm left behind made for treacherous driving conditions Monday. State, county and municipal police responded to dozens of accidents, though none resulted in life-threatening injury.

Among the accidents was one on Darling Road in Hudson that resulted in that road being closed from 10 a.m. until almost 5 p.m. to allow electrical workers to deal with downed power lines.

State police Trooper Douglas Franklin, who went to a string of weather-related accidents, said that while most main roads were cleared of snow, travel conditions on secondary routes remained poor.

“It’s bad,” Franklin said Monday afternoon. He said more accidents were likely later in the day, as temperatures dropped and the evening commute got under way.

Emergency dispatchers in Hancock County said most of the many weather-related calls they received were about downed power lines or vehicles off the roads. The most serious incident involved a man in the town of Hancock who lost some of his fingers when he tried to clear a chunk of ice out of his snowblower.

In Mount Desert, the local fire department opened up its Somesville station for a few hours for area residents who had lost their power, according to Fire Chief Mike Bender. He said a couple of firefighters opened the station up around midmorning and heated up some soup for people who needed to get warm.

But the station was closed again by 3 p.m., he said, because power had been restored and people had gone back to their homes. He said the station might be opened again Monday evening, if people come home from work and find that their lights are out.

“It takes only a couple of minutes,” for firefighters to open up the station, he said.

The weather service reported Monday evening that the storm had largely dissipated and that winds were expected to decrease overnight. Lows for early Tuesday are forecast in the single digits in northern Maine and about 20 degrees in the south, the National Weather Service said.

The Associated Press and BDN writers Kevin Miller and Dawn Gagnon in Bangor, Bill Trotter and Rich Hewitt in Ellsworth, Diana Bowley in Sangerville and Diana Graettinger in Calais contributed to this report.

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