PORTLAND, Maine — Fewer than 4,000 homes and businesses in Maine are still without electricity as crews continue restoring power to customers who lost service after a powerful coastal storm packing rain, snow and sleet charged through New England.
Work to fix downed power lines continued Tuesday, a day after the storm left tens of thousands of people in the dark. Central Maine Power Co. said as of 4:30 p.m., 3,670 customers still were without power in southern and central Maine.
CMP says small pockets of customers are likely to be without service into Wednesday.
The storm raked the region Monday with driving rain, sleet, freezing rain and powerful winds. Dozens of schools closed because of power outages, and at least one traffic fatality was blamed on the weather.
Central Maine Power Co. officials reported about 100 broken utility poles caused by a powerful coastal storm packing rain, snow and sleet that surprised New Englanders with its ferocity as wind gusts built to speeds topping 60 mph.
At peak, more than 60,000 homes and businesses were in the dark Monday in southern Maine, where Portland International Jetport recorded a gust of 63 mph. There were 15,000 outages in New Hampshire, where winds topped 60 mph at the Isles of Shoals. There were sporadic outages elsewhere.
The storm raked the region with driving rain, sleet and freezing rain, and powerful winds seemed to grab trees and effortlessly shake them. Dozens of schools closed for the day because of power outages, and at least one traffic fatality was blamed on the weather.
Matt Doody, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Caribou, said Monday the agency received no reports of major damage from the storm in eastern or northern Maine. The heavy rains were left over from the remnants of former Hurricane Tomas, he said, but the winds that felled trees in southern Maine were part of a separate storm system.
“The heaviest winds were from the midcoast [area] south,” Doody said. “The storm was pretty much affecting [southern Maine].”
In Freeport, Bill Fish was startled when he awoke Monday morning to find a 75-foot pine tree had snapped and fallen across some power lines, which crashed into a heap in the middle of the road. Somehow, he’d managed to sleep through the commotion when the wind knocked down the massive tree.
“It’s good it went that way. That’s all I can say,” Fish said as utility crews restored power on his country road. “If it had come this way, it would have hit my house.”
Central Maine Power Co. officials monitored the storm over the weekend, but it was more powerful than expected when it crossed into the state, said CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice.
Numerous trees and branches fell onto power lines, and more than 60 utility poles had been toppled as of Monday morning, she said. There was no significant snowfall but there was enough rain to cause flooding and close roads to traffic. The National Weather Service said the storm would continue through Tuesday.
By Monday afternoon, about 40,000 homes and businesses in Maine and 5,000 in New Hampshire were still without power.
The complex storm pattern involved two low-pressure systems that rotated off the coast from New Jersey to Maine, resulting in heavy squalls and blustery conditions, said Butch Roberts, weather service meteorologist in Gray.
It was reaching its peak strength when it arrived on the Maine coast. “It was definitely a strong storm. It got progressively stronger and deeper as it approached the coast,” he said.
Few CMP customers in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties lost power, but at noon, around 370 in Waldo County remained without electricity, Rice said.
An estimated 738 Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. customers lost power early Monday, according to a press release from the company, and more than half were reported in Penobscot County.
“Power outages peaked between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. with about 750 customers affected,” Susan Faloon, spokeswoman for the company, said in the statement. “Outages are scattered in nature across the affected areas. Customers are reporting broken tree limbs, blocked roads and trees on power lines.”
Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said at around 11 a.m. that the city was saturated by rain, but was experiencing few weather-related problems.
Bangor Public Works crews could be seen using equipment to clean rain runoff points, he said.
Dana Wardwell, the city’s director of public works, said he had several crews out on Monday, but they mostly were cleaning leaves from catch basins, which is a normal fall activity.
Flooded roads, downed trees and a few hundred residences left without power was pretty much the extent of the storm damage in Waldo and Knox counties, according to the county Emergency Management Agency directors.
Route 220 in Montville flooded near the entrance to Frye Mountain, causing some cars to get stuck, said Waldo County EMA director Dale Rowley.
The Montville Fire Department had to help pull the vehicles out, he said.
Also, scattered power outages throughout the county left some households in Unity, Troy, Thorndike, Northport, Islesboro, Lincolnville and Brooks without electricity. About 800 households still did not have power restored by late Monday morning, Rowley said.
In Knox County, the storm dropped 3.12 inches of rain in about 24 hours, according to measurements taken at Knox County Airport.
The rainfall and heavy winds caused some problems, including a washout along Route 52 in the Camden area where the Maine Department of Transportation has been doing some road work, according to Knox County EMA director Ray Sisk.
In Rockland, a lot of leaves on the ground wound up clogging storm sewers, he said.
“Urban flooding, they call it,” Sisk said.
There also was flooding along Route 73 in St. George, on Port Clyde Road, on Westbrook Street in South Thomaston and on Route 97 in Warren near the railroad tracks, he said.
Sisk had not heard about any problems with coastal flooding.
“We’re lucky — most of the area has pretty good elevation,” he said.
In New Hampshire, Justin Towle, 29, of Claremont was killed Monday after his car struck a large tree that had been uprooted by high winds and fallen across Route 120 in Cornish, according to state police.
Early in the morning, the Coast Guard launched a helicopter, jet, three cutters and other vessels to search for a New Jersey-based fishing boat and its four-person crew after receiving an alert from the boat’s emergency beacon off Massachusetts with 25- to 30-knot winds and 15-foot seas.
The boat was located later in the morning, and all aboard were safe. The fishing boat had lost generator power, making it difficult to communicate earlier, an official said.
Sudden icing conditions were blamed for a rash of overnight accidents in Massachusetts, including two that left police officers injured.
Authorities weren’t sure whether weather was a factor in a fatal crash on Interstate 495 in Raynham. A 57-year-old Brockton man died when he lost control of his car about 4:30 a.m., struck a guardrail and then was hit by a tractor-trailer.
The cleanup was in full swing Monday morning with utility crews out in force. Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed an emergency declaration to allow power crews from other states to come to Maine and to extend the number of hours crews can work in a stretch restoring power.
A scene in Yarmouth repeated itself across the region.
“It was blowing pretty good. It had to be 40- to 50-knot winds,” said Steve Hunt as he used a bow saw to cut up a huge pine tree that fell. He estimated it was 80 to 90 feet tall and 3½ to 4 feet in diameter at its base.