Thousands without power, bridges closed as state cleans up after Irene

Dale Nickerson walks around her tree-damaged home Monday morning while recounting how Tropical Storm Irene's winds ripped thropugh her neighborhood on Davis Pond in Holden. A cedar tee fell on her roof and a poplar tree fell on her back deck around 7:30 p.m Sunday evening, she said. On Monday she decided to wait for the insurance claims adjuster to arrive before having the trees removed. "I made it through last night. I can make it through anything," said Nickerson.
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Dale Nickerson walks around her tree-damaged home Monday morning while recounting how Tropical Storm Irene's winds ripped thropugh her neighborhood on Davis Pond in Holden. A cedar tee fell on her roof and a poplar tree fell on her back deck around 7:30 p.m Sunday evening, she said. On Monday she decided to wait for the insurance claims adjuster to arrive before having the trees removed. "I made it through last night. I can make it through anything," said Nickerson.
By Abigail Curtis, Christopher Cousins, Eric Russell and Jen Lynds, BDN Staff
Posted Aug. 29, 2011, at 9:03 a.m.

BOWDOINHAM, Maine — For Pete and Cathy Karonis, like many other many Mainers, Irene was bad but it could have been a lot worse.

The Topsham couple, who as owners of Fairwinds Farm oversee more than 60 acres of crops in Bowdoinham, woke Monday to find ruined raspberries, tomatoes and 2 acres of flattened cornfields, but they’ll take it compared with the destruction they feared from Irene.

Pete Karonis figures the farm lost some 2,000 dozen ears of corn, depending on how much of it he can salvage now that the stalks are laid flat on the ground. The damaged portion is a small percentage of the overall crop, but the loss could be several thousands of dollars.

Still, higher winds and heavier rains that loomed in early forecasts could have wiped the farm out completely.

“It could have been a whole lot worse,” said Pete, who with his wife has owned the farm for 15 years. “That’s the way most farmers look at it.”

“You just move on,” chimed in Cathy. “You go on to the next planting.”

Like the Karonises, people across Maine spent Monday smoothing the ripples left by Irene. In some places, such as the dark homes of nearly 300,000 Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro-Electric customers at the storm’s peak, or in areas where roads washed away, the effect was consuming.

By 5 p.m. Monday, Central Maine Power reported 135,000 customers without power, down from nearly 280,000 homes — about a quarter of all CMP customers — late Sunday. Another 12,000 Bangor Hydro-Electric customers remained in the dark as well. The worst-hit counties were in southern and western Maine.

Utility crews from Maine and Canada worked overnight to restore power but cautioned that it could be several days before every outage is remedied. Officials also warned against approaching downed tree limbs in the area of power lines.

While no deaths were reported in the state from the storm’s powerful winds and flooding waters, it was not without its close calls and drama. In Carrabassett Valley, a young woman who had become stranded between the two Route 27 bridges that were washed out by the Carrabassett River’s floodwaters was pulled to safety by local rescuers.

Gov. Paul LePage, who declared a statewide emergency on Friday, toured that area by helicopter and on foot Monday before flying to Phillips and Rumford where roads also were closed because of flooding from Sunday’s storm.

Among the damage surveyed by LePage, Maine Emergency Management Agency Robert McAleer and Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt were two bridges that washed out on Route 27 in Carrabassett Valley, cutting off access to the Sugarloaf/USA resort. MDOT crews have re-routed traffic through private roads.

The storm stranded 100 people at the Sugarloaf resort.

“The damage in some of these areas is devastating,” said LePage in a press release.

LePage said a tally of the monetary damage in the coming days will determine whether Maine qualifies for federal disaster relief funds.

Flood warnings were in place for several major waterways, including the Penobscot, Androscoggin and Kennebec rivers.

Nearly 200 roads were closed because of flooding or fallen trees, and a dozen bridges were closed, said Mark Latti, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. By Monday afternoon, three bridges — the two in Carrabassett Valley and one along western Maine’s Route 113 — remained closed. All but a handful of the roads were reopened, Latti said.

Emergency shelters remained open throughout the state on Monday. Residents can find one in their area by calling the state’s 211 information hot line.

Major travel continued to be affected by the storm. Travelers who saw their flights canceled on Sunday were scrambling on Monday to find an alternative.

Amtrak service from Boston, which had been canceled while damage to the tracks was assessed, resumed Monday afternoon. For updated information, visit Amtrak.com or call 800-USA-RAIL (800-872-7245) and request train status.

The ferry service to North Haven and Vinalhaven resumed regular service on Monday and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory reopened at 1:30 p.m.

Some Waldo County towns were hit hard by outages. Dale Rowley, director of Waldo County Emergency Management Agency, said all but nine customers in the town of Palermo were without power.

Trees fell and wires came down throughout the county. Downed wires caused spot fires in a multitude of locations, but no fires were very serious, Rowley said.

“CMP’s been working straight on, and brought crews in from other places,” he said. “It’s a death by a thousand cuts.”

One car was hit by a falling tree on Horseback Road in Burnham, he said, adding that no further information was available.

Crews from the Maine Public Service utility in northern Maine were headed Monday to assist Bangor Hydro crews, who were facing more than 500 separate work orders for downed trees, dangling wires and other problems, according to Bangor Hydro spokeswoman Susan Faloon.

Hancock County represented more than half of the nearly 19,000 outages being reported by Bangor Hydro late Monday morning, with the towns of Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor among the hardest hit. Both towns had power restored by approximately noon Monday, according to officials in each town.

Officials with Acadia National Park said Monday in a statement that Irene caused “minimal” damage in the park. Campgrounds that were closed Sunday morning were reopened Monday, but as a precaution rangers kept visitors off the rocks near Thunder Hole as the tide crested around 11:20 a.m. Monday. The rocky shore where Thunder Hole is located is where several people were swept into the water, one of them fatally, by a large wave generated by Hurricane Bill in August 2009.

In Belfast, Harbor Master Katherine Messier said that aside from a couple of boats that ran into problems because of the storm, all was well.

“It was rough, and we were holding our breath, because there were a lot of boats that were still on the moorings,” she said.

Nevertheless, a 30-foot sailboat wrenched free of its mooring and grounded itself on the east side near the footbridge, with a lot of damage caused, Messier said.

According to Messier, she and the other overnight workers at the harbor didn’t have time to keep an eye on the wind meter to see how hard it was blowing.

“The last three or four days have been pretty busy,” she said. “We’re just running on fumes.”

Down the coast, crews in Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties were fanned out across the territory dealing with fallen trees and utility wires. Lincoln County Sheriff’s Lt. Rand Maker said northern areas of the county, such as Dresden and Whitefield, were ravaged by downed power lines and trees. There were also a couple of road closures but Maker said they were being resolved Monday.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “At least the sun’s out today.”

At Bath Iron Works, the morning shift was delayed for two hours Monday until Central Maine Power could restore the shipyard’s industrial-strength power supply. BIW spokesman James DeMartini said operations were at normal levels by late Monday morning.

All in all, though, Maine seemed to be spared from the worst.

“We’re seeing nothing surprising in terms of big pockets of problems,” said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency. “I think in some ways we were lucky, especially when you look at damage to the west. Up until the last minute, that could have been us.”

Miller said emergency officials would continue to assess the damage but it was too early to put a dollar value on that damage.

Some aspects of life began to return to normal for Portland residents as the city announced it would conduct curbside garbage and recycling pickups Monday as normal, and that the city’s shelter at the Portland Exposition Building would be closing at 8 a.m.

The Navy ship USS John L Hall canceled its scheduled visit to Camden’s Windjammer Festival on Sept. 2, because it had to join the rest of the Norfolk-based fleet out to sea in order to avoid Hurricane Irene.

In Aroostook County, the heaviest rains from Irene did not begin falling until late Sunday evening. High winds persisted throughout the evening and into Monday afternoon.

Virginia Joles, director of communications for Maine Public Service Co. in Presque Isle, said Monday that 7,300 customers were without power at the height of the storm.

Most of the power outages from the storm took place in central Aroostook County, according to Joles. Power was restored to all customers by early Monday.

The highest wind gust in The County, 58 mph, was recorded in Van Buren. Island Falls picked up the most rain from the storm, 2.71 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Jessica Morse was in Houlton on Monday afternoon preparing to shop under bright, sunny skies. Morse said that she and her family saw no ill effects from Irene.

“That was nothing,” she said. “I had a lawn chair that I forgot to bring in blow over, but that was about it.”

Allen Murchinson, a Caribou resident, agreed.

“The three tornadoes that we saw back in June did much more damage than Irene,” he said Monday. “I lost power at my house in Caribou for a short time, but they had it back on pretty quickly. I was glad for the rain, to be honest. It brightened up my garden a bit.”

Irene was downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm by the time it reached Maine on Sunday but it still brought 40- to 50-mph wind gusts and 2 to 4 inches of rain to most of the state.

Eric Russell reported from Bangor, Christopher Cousins from Bath, Abigail Curtis from Belfast and Jen Lynds from Houlton. Contributing to this report were BDN reporters Heather Steeves in Rockland, Seth Koenig in Portland, Kevin Miller and Bill Trotter in Ellsworth and The Associated Press.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/08/29/news/state/the-cleanup-from-irene-begins-nearly-200000-mainers-without-power/ printed on September 24, 2014