June 22, 2018
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Maine preparing to send emergency responders down East Coast in wake of Sandy

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Emergency responders in even the hardest-hit areas of Maine are breathing a sigh of relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on Tuesday, reporting no casualties and little need for shelters.

Thousands of Mainers remained without power Tuesday evening, but with billions of dollars in damage and at least 50 people killed in states to the south as a result of the storm, Pine Tree State responders have begun assessing how best to help those worse off elsewhere.

“We’re getting very strong word that it’s going to be an all-hands-on-deck call for volunteers to respond to the devastation down the coast,” said Jason Shedlock, regional communications and government relations director for the American Red Cross in Portland. “There’s a huge need for volunteers for their recovery efforts [out of state]. At this point, we’re kind of pivoting, letting people know what the situation is here, and then getting volunteers ready to send down to New York and New Jersey where the need is more dire.”

Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said her organization is monitoring requests for aid made by agencies in harder hit states through the network known as the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

“We’re starting to see some requests coming across the line, and as it appears we were spared the worst of it, we’re looking at what we might have in the state that could be of assistance,” she said.

Gov. Paul LePage did not participate in a conference call Tuesday afternoon that President Barack Obama held for governors and mayors in affected areas, but LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said administration officials have been in contact with the federal government and are ready to help out in states that were more damaged by Sandy.

Rangers in Acadia National Park closed Ocean Drive and the Schoodic Loop Road to vehicles overnight but opened them again Tuesday morning after determining they were not damaged or blocked by debris.

In the southern part of the state, one shelter was opened Monday night at the Groveville fire station in the York County town of Buxton, and another was slated to open Tuesday morning at Bridgton Community Center in the Cumberland County town of Bridgton, according to the Maine Emergency Management Agency. Shedlock said the Red Cross was not asked to open any additional shelters.

Sheridan Bennett, Buxton emergency management director, said only one woman used the shelter set up in his town overnight. But he said several people have stopped in to take showers and charge their cellphones.

Bennett added that it would be 48 hours before emergency responders know whether the Saco River will flood, but said they don’t expect it to because it was not previously running high and likely has capacity to absorb a storm surge.

Steve Harding, public information officer for the York County Emergency Management Agency, said that although his organization was prepared for the worst, that’s far from what it got.

“My phone didn’t ring all night,” he said. “I got up in the morning and there was no wind. I got in to work and all of a sudden [I] realized, ‘Hey, we didn’t get the worst of it.’ When you listen to the national media and you hear about what’s going on in New York and New Jersey, they got slammed. We could have gotten hit a lot worse.

“Last time we checked, there were five or six roads that were closed, and other than that, there were still a lot of power outages,” Harding continued. “But the wind is very, very light, so I don’t think that’s going to cause us any more problems.”

Shedlock of the Red Cross agreed that “folks fared pretty well.”

“There are still a number of power outages that [Central Maine Power Co.] and [Bangor Hydro Electric Co.] are working on, but now [emergency responders are] just doing damage assessments where the counties will take inventory of the situations locally,” he said. “Initial reports and even secondary reports are that it could have been much worse. At this point, it’s just about getting that power up and moving on.”

At 11:50 p.m. Tuesday, CMP reported that 17,444 of its customers remained without power. York County still had the largest number of outages at 8,682. There are 114,802 CMP customers in York County overall.

In Cumberland County, 5,617 of the county’s 154,211 CMP customers remained without electricity, the power company reported.

Those figures had dropped from the 10 a.m. update, when CMP reported more than 82,000 total customers without electricity, including around 32,000 each in York and Cumberland counties.

At 11:50 p.m., Bangor Hydro reported that 95 of its customers still were without power. Bangor Hydro said at the peak of the storm, there were about 5,500 customers without power.

Bangor Hydro and Maine Public Service were planning to wrap up their work in Maine on Tuesday and make decisions regarding sending crews to assist utilities in harder hit areas of the East Coast.

University of New England and University of Southern Maine each closed early on Monday and remained closed on Tuesday in the aftermath of the storm. Many other southern Maine public school systems and organizations announced closures Tuesday as well, including Gorham schools, Hall Elementary School and Casco Bay High School in Portland, the Cumberland-area SAD 51, and the Bonny Eagle School District, serving the Buxton area.

For a complete list of reported closures, visit bangordailynews.com/closings.

Although the U.S. Coast Guard closed the Port of Portland on Monday evening in anticipation of high winds and high seas, the port was reopened in time for Tuesday morning’s ferries to the Casco Bay islands to be on their normal schedules, ferry operator Casco Bay Lines announced.

Miller said Mainers should be aware of the possibility of hazards in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which at its most severe Monday night brought winds of nearly 60 mph.

“It isn’t over,” she said. “We’ve got a windy day today, we’ve got some rain coming in over the next couple of days and some flash flooding risks. But compared to what’s been happening in some other states, we’re feeling very fortunate.”

Bangor Daily News writer Bill Trotter contributed to this report.

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