Mainers share stories of Christmas without electricity

A Red Cross shelter has been set up in the Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School for anyone who has lost power or heat as a result of the ice storm. The shelter has hosted as many as 21 people during the last two days. Many residents have stopped by just to take a shower or charge phones, while others have been spending the night.
A Red Cross shelter has been set up in the Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School for anyone who has lost power or heat as a result of the ice storm. The shelter has hosted as many as 21 people during the last two days. Many residents have stopped by just to take a shower or charge phones, while others have been spending the night. Buy Photo
Posted Dec. 26, 2013, at 3:23 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 26, 2013, at 5:41 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Some Mainers without power used their wood stoves to keep warm and to cook their holiday meals. Others helped out loved ones and neighbors who had traveled to warmer climes by checking on their empty homes. For many who lost power during the ice storm, it seems likely that Christmas 2013 will long be remembered.

Chris Goosman and Chip Curry live in the center of Belfast, and although neighbors have had power restored, their house was still in the dark Thursday. By the third day of their power outage, the family was used to its new routine and had set up a kitchen and freezers on their deck along with camp stove, grill and coolers.

“We’ve turned our fridge into a good ol’ fashioned icebox, and we head out to the yard to get more ice as we need it,” Goosman said.

Because of the limited kitchen, the family dined on chicken and dumplings on Christmas Eve, a hit she expects will become a new tradition. And Ada, their young daughter, has been a trouper about the long outage, playing with her non-electronic toys and enjoying the novelty.

“We will certainly tell family stories about this Christmas for years to come,” Goosman said. “And I will have additional reason to talk Chip out of winter camping!”

In nearby Northport, Judy Berk and David Foley have been without power since Sunday night. They have a wood stove and are warm and comfortable — but are worried about losing the contents of their freezers, which includes much of the harvest from their large gardens, two lambs and 25 chickens. They’ve been adding frozen jugs of water and wrapped their freezers in sleeping bags to insulate them, she said.

“A couple of days ago, after we got ourselves squared away, David made a bunch of calls to the neighbors to see who had needs,” said Berk, who lives on Beech Hill Road.

They hooked up the cellar wood stove of one neighbor who was en route to Mexico for the holiday, making sure that her pipes did not freeze in the frigid temperatures of Christmas Day. Foley fired up his two chain saws and helped people clear their driveways of fallen trees. And they plan to celebrate Christmas with family members this coming Sunday, they hope with the lights on. Berk said that several summers ago they camped on Isle au Haut next to a family who had spent time in Nepal. That camping trip has helped her have a good attitude about the long power outage, she said.

“We think we’re roughing it, but people in Nepal would think this is luxury living. We have clean drinking water. A clean latrine. That would be considered luxury in other parts of the world,” she said.

A shelter set up at the Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School was home to 11 people on Christmas Day, who had tomato soup for dinner. At the peak, the shelter housed 21 people, Joe Apicelli, a Red Cross employee, said Thursday. By noon the day after Christmas, only four people remained.

Fire and emergency crews in Newburgh went door to door where homes were without power on Christmas Eve to see if any residents needed help.

“They were in better shape than I thought they would be,” said Fire Chief Glen Williamson, who was without power himself on Thursday afternoon.

An emergency shelter was set up at the Newburgh Town Office on Tuesday. Williamson said no one he talked to went to the shelter. Most people seemed prepared for the ice storm, he said Thursday.

“Everybody took care of themselves and everybody was prepared,” said Williamson. “I heard a lot of comments about how the [1998] ice storm taught them a lesson.”

Dr. Don Lynch, who went three days without power, chipped ice outside his Newburgh home and brought in buckets full of the frozen water to melt for several purposes.

“I’ve been filling up jugs to flush the toilet and do dishes,” said Lynch, whose power returned early Thursday afternoon.

It was the first Christmas he and his wife, Lisa, had spent away from their parents. Lynch said he couldn’t leave the wood stove because he didn’t want the pipes to freeze. The Christmas tree also went unlit Christmas Eve and day.

Some of the food in the fridge was lost, he said, but food in the freezer was moved out to his truck outside.

Brewer resident Rodney Hanson, Boy Scout Troop 1 Scoutmaster, said he played “generator elf” on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, helping out family and friends caught without power.

“We did Christmas Eve by generator light,” he said. “The power went out at noon and when I got home the kids were all bundled up in blankets. I fired up my generator and turned on my Christmas lights because I could. The neighbor came over to keep warm and my parents called [from Burnham] to say their power was out. My father is on oxygen so he can’t be without electricity.”

The lifelong Boy Scout, who has three generators, said he put one at his parents’ house, just as a precaution. A helpful neighbor assisted with getting it started and Hanson drove down on Christmas Day to make sure it was filled with gas.

While en route, Hanson got a call from a friend in Bucksport who had just bought a home.

“He had lost power and his house was at 34 degrees. He had a generator but couldn’t get it started,” the Scout leader said. “We got that running by phone.”

He also dropped by another home in Hampden on the way home, and found his friend’s wife frantic.

“She had a generator pulled out because she lost power [and] she had already put her son to bed but didn’t know what she had for gas,” Hanson said. “I had gas in the back of my truck and filled her generator up.”

When he got home, friends from Day Road stopped by with cookies, and after learning they were without power, he sent them home with his third generator.

“I always have another source, because I do a lot of Boy Scout stuff,” Hanson said. “I don’t mess around.”

BDN writers Abigail Curtis, Alex Barber, Nell Gluckman and Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report.

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