May 24, 2018
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Tropical storm Earl swipes Maine no more than a glancing blow

By From and wire reports, Special to the BDN

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Most of the areas at Acadia National Park were open and operations back to normal by noon Saturday after the rains from tropical storm Earl headed northeast toward the Canadian Maritimes.

The worst of the storm passed well east of the Maine coast, making landfall Saturday morning near Western Head, Nova Scotia. The storm brought as much as 2 inches of rain to the region, including spots inland, but did not generate the high winds. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in a late-morning press conference call Saturday said the impact from the storm was “minimal” and the FEMA was returning to normal operations.

The storm brought heavy sheets of rain and swift gusts, toppling some trees and knocking out power to more than 200,000 customers in Nova Scotia. There were numerous flight and ferry cancellations. Police said the road to the popular Peggy’s Cove tourist site near Halifax was closed to keep curious storm-watchers away from the dangerous, pounding surf.

By 2 p.m. EDT Saturday, Earl’s center was crossing the Northhumberland Strait, north of mainland Nova Scotia and was moving northeast at 45 mph. The Canadian Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for parts of Nova Scotia.

The National Weather Service dropped a tropical storm warning for Maine’s two easternmost counties, Washington and Hancock, as winds reached only 45 mph on some outer islands. There were no reports of storm damage.

The biggest concern was the surf that was expected to build to 14 feet. People near the coast were warned to keep a safe distance from the pounding waves.

Officials at Acadia had closed the park on Friday but by 8 a.m. Saturday had reopened Ocean Drive, although rangers were keeping visitors from going down too far on the rocks. It was off Ocean Drive near Thunder Hole where a large wave crashed on the shore and swept three people into the water as Hurricane Bill passed by last year. One of the three, a 7-year-old girl, died, and 11 others on shore were injured.

Park officals said Saturday that the campgrounds also were opened by midmorning and that all of the park on Mount Desert Island was functioning.

The only restrictions were at the Schoodic section of the park in eastern Hancock County where a park spokesperson said the waves had picked up. Rangers moved visitors to the upper parking lot in order to keep them off the rocks near the shore.

With the rains ended, and the park open, people were starting to show up late Saturday morning, they said.

Off the coast of New Hampshire, the storm interfered with the search for a boater who went missing before the storm’s arrival. The Coast Guard was working under the assumption that Robert Schultze, 63, of Shapleigh, Maine, fell overboard.

The Coast Guard found an abandoned motorboat belonging to Schultze anchored near Kitts Rock at 2 p.m. Friday. Boat keys, wetsuits and a license were found.

Schultze’s family said Saturday he was out on a fishing trip and was a strong swimmer.

Cmdr. Paul Wolf says the Coast Guard focused its search Saturday near Kittery and York.

He says in addition to the rescue effort, the Maine Marine Patrol and Maine State Police are investigating whether Schultze was alone.

The water temperature is 68 to 70 degrees. Wolf says the base survival rate is about 20 hours. However, it doesn’t take into account whether Schultze was wearing a wetsuit.

As Earl approached New England on Friday, recreational boaters moved hundreds of vessels onto dry ground or to safer locations. Lobster fishermen moved their traps to deeper water or pulled them from the water altogether. Many islanders fled to the mainland because of the dismal weekend weather forecast.

But reminiscent of Kyle, Hurricane Earl lost steam and veered to the east. On Friday, it was downgraded to a tropical storm before making landfall at around 11 a.m. Saturday in eastern Nova Scotia.

While tropical storm warnings had been posted for Washington and Hancock counties, the storm didn’t gain respect from rugged residents accustomed to fierce winter storms with stronger gusts.

“The wind always blows around here,” Mark Jones said Saturday morning as he cooked up ham and sausage for the monthly pancake breakfast at the Masonic lodge in Lubec.

Inland in Washington County, residents were reporting heavy rain but little wind early Saturday morning. Washington County Regional Communications Center had not received a single emergency call related to the storm.

Tessa Chaffey Ftorek said, “We have some wind and a little rain at Boyden Lake in Perry. We’ve had more in a summer thunderstorm. We pulled our boat and secured our kayaks just in case.”

The storm greeted Eastport with more of a growl than a roar when it arrived at about 6 a.m. Saturday.

The Coast Guard station at Eastport reported winds between 22 and 26 mph — still strong enough to blow window screens from a local motel and the water right out of the downtown fountain.

Despite the weather, Dennis Berry of Kenduskeag calmly drove his pickup truck to the breakwater at daybreak, pulled out a fishing rod and began to cast.

When asked what he was doing out in a tropical storm, Berry simply said, “I’m trying to catch mackerel.”

Berry said he arrived for a four-day stay in a cabin at Eastport and wasn’t going to let the storm dampen his trip. “I come every year,” he said. “I love it here. It is so unspoiled.”

Some parts of Knox County received about three inches of rain, said Ray Sisk, director of the Knox County Emergency Management Agency, but winds there never blew more than a moderate 15 knots. A few low-lying areas experienced minor flooding.

“Everything is so dry here that the ground has absorbed everything really well,” Sisk said.

Darlene Donahue in Baileyville said she was seeing plenty of rain there but very little wind. “I’m disappointed,” she said.

There was very little for storm watchers to see.

Bruce and Amy Hodgdon drove to Lubec hoping to see dramatic surf pounding the rocks near the candy-stripped West Quoddyhead lighthouse. Once there, they didn’t bother to get out of their van.

“Pretty mild,” Bruce Hodgdon said.

“Business as usual,” Amy Hodgdon added.

Mark Sprague of East Machias said he got the last laugh in a friendly disagreement with his brother, who monitored the storm on the Internet and warned that it packed a powerful wallop.

“I said, ‘Walk over to the window and drop that computer out the window,’” Sprague said as he watched the rain falling outside the window of Peanut’s Coffee Shop. “This ain’t nothing.”

In Machias some minor flooding occurred in a low area near the Bluebird Restaurant, according to a Washington County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher, but little or no inconvenience was reported.

In Lubec, the nation’s easternmost town, the candy-striped West Quoddy Head lighthouse stood sentry in gray haze as rain blanketed the area Saturday morning.

The sheets of rain didn’t keep dozens of residents from attending Lubec’s pancake breakfast. But it did prevent buccaneers from Eastport from coming to Lubec in full pirate garb to hoist the jolly roger in celebration of Eastport’s upcoming pirate festival.

Cobscook Bay’s choppy waters were deemed too rough, so the pirate invasion was delayed until Sunday, when sunny skies and mild weather were expected.

In Bangor, barriers were put up at about 10 a.m. Saturday to divert traffic on the Perry Road, near the Route 202 overpass after a car got stuck because of flooding there.

“It’s very deceiving,” Bangor police officer Al Woolley said from the rain-soaked scene. “It’s got to be above my knees.”

BDN writers Rich Hewitt in Acadia National Park, Sharon Mack in Eastport and Nok-Noi Ricker in Bangor and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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