BELFAST, Maine — A whoop rang through the city Saturday afternoon as power returned after a nearly five-hour outage that closed Waldo County businesses, dimmed traffic lights and created questions about whether New Year’s Eve festivities would proceed as planned.
“Power’s on, and people are smiling,” an ebullient Neal Parent said from his downtown shop, which doubles as the headquarters for the 15th annual New Year’s by the Bay celebration. “We were selling buttons by oil lamp, for the first time ever. All of a sudden the power came back on, and I said, ‘Yahoo!’”
According to the website for New Year’s by the Bay, the music performances, children’s activities and more were scheduled to continue throughout the afternoon and evening, with festivities capped off by a midnight bonfire at the waterfront pier.
A CMP spokesman said that the fault in a transmission line near Lincolnville cut power to more than 16,000 Central Maine Power customers in Waldo County beginning at about 10 a.m. Saturday morning. No other counties were affected significantly by the outage, according to the utility company.
The number of customers without power had dropped to 11,463 shortly after noon and 9,255 soon after 1 p.m., according to the company’s website. CMP has a total of 23,738 customers in Waldo County.
In some communities, including Stockton Springs, nearly 100 percent of customers were without power during the outage.
Beth Hall of Stockton Springs was doing some shopping in the dark in Main Street Market on Saturday afternoon.
The Just Barb’s waitress said that she had been sent home early from the restaurant when the power went out.
“We had flashlights, but they were going out,” Hall said.
One of the few businesses that remained open in the county was Tozier’s Family Market in Searsport. Employees armed with flashlights individually escorted shoppers through the store, gathering items and writing the prices because the scanners were down. Customers then paid outside with cash or checks.
Owner Dale Tozier said that between 500 and 1,000 customers did their New Year’s Eve shopping this way, and that his store has a history of this kind of effort. During the 1998 ice storm, Tozier’s Family Market stayed open for three days straight without power.
“Business was very, very good,” he said Saturday afternoon. “People were so good. Everybody was in a great mood. Happy we were here, and we were happy we were here for them.”
Customers sought everything from daily necessities to party supplies to liquor and ice cream, a lot of each.
“We’re a service business. We take care of our people,” he said.
In Belfast, temporary stop signs were put up in place of the usual flashing traffic lights Saturday afternoon, as drivers inched tentatively through intersections.
Around noon, a hungry crowd gathered in Chase’s Daily on Main Street in Belfast, one of the few local restaurants that remained open despite the outage.
They dined by candlelight as staff cooked on propane stoves in the kitchen. Some wore makeshift headlamps as they prepared meals.
“Business is really good,” said employee Jamie Edwards. “Everything’s a lot slower, but we’re all working together pretty well. Nobody else can cook at home.”
Mitzi Lichtman of Northport said she was grateful the restaurant was open.
“I was hungry and wondering where to go,” she said as she finished her sandwich. “I’m appreciative that they’re doing what they’re doing. I totally understand the atmosphere here of quiet chaos. Controlled chaos.”
Next to her, Seth Whited of Belfast worked on a crossword puzzle by candlelight.
“I had a bunch of things that I was planning to do today,” he said. “I guess they’ll have to wait until Monday.”