Wind gusts nearing 70 mph leave thousands of Mainers without electricity

Posted Jan. 31, 2013, at 6:33 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 01, 2013, at 6:41 a.m.

Windy conditions throughout the state left thousands of Mainers without power on Thursday.

The National Weather Service in Caribou reported Thursday evening that the strongest gusts of wind in the past 12 hours, both 68 mph, were recorded in Frenchboro and Brooksville.

A high-wind warning issued Wednesday for most of eastern, central and Down East Maine was in effect until 9 p.m. Thursday, but National Weather Service meteorologist Dustin Jordan said the warning was downgraded to an advisory at 7:25 p.m. in the state’s northern zones.

“Our forecast is calling for a west wind of 15 to 25 miles an hour with gusts up to 45 for Aroostook, northern Somerset, northern Penobscot and northern Piscataquis counties,” he said.

The number of outages across the state peaked at more than 65,000 around 2 p.m. Thursday. At 8 p.m., Bangor Hydro Electric Co. reported that 9,686 customers remained without electricity. John Carroll, Central Maine Power’s spokesman, reported the number of outages down to 11,384 — almost 2 percent of its 608,550 customer base — at 9 p.m. According to a release from Susan Faloon, Bangor Hydro’s spokeswoman, crews worked through the night so that by 4 a.m., the number of outages were down to 6,093 — 1,522 in Hancock County, 1,122 in northern Penobscot and Piscatiquin counties, 1,923 in the rest of Penobscot County, and 1526 in Washington County.

Faloon said early Friday that the goal was to have all if not most of power restored by the end of the day.

“We will have customers without power tonight. We’re working on it. Crews will be working on through the night,” said Faloon.

The highest number of outages for Bangor Hydro customers at one time was 23,000.

CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice earlier told the BDN that CMP is in the midst of a five-year project trimming tree limbs around power lines, but that Thursday’s winds still were damaging.

“Even the most aggressive tree trimming can’t prevent all outages,” she said. “The wind has been so strong it has blown tree limbs and branches that were outside of the buffer zone into these lines.

Maine Public Service, a division of Bangor Hydro that delivers power to Aroostook County, pretty much had things back to normal by late afternoon Thursday.

“They didn’t see as many outages as we did in Bangor Hydro territory,” said Faloon. “They had one outage that affected about 2,800 customers for a little less than an hour around 9 this morning.”

The towns affected included Fort Fairfield, Oxbow, Mapleton, Oakfield, Island Falls, New Sweden, Patten and Sherman.

“It was around 2,400 this afternoon, but last I knew they were down to around 40 customers without power in the West Chapman area. Those may be all taken care of by now,” Faloon said at 5:30 p.m.

For Bangor Hydro customers, steady progress was being made.

“As the winds die down, we should make more and more progress, but when you get to the circuits in more remote areas with smaller numbers of customers attached to them, that number goes down more slowly,” Faloon said.

In Aroostook County, high winds caused damage to roofs in Easton and other communities. A truck also was blown over in Easton.

MaineGeneral Hospital in Augusta lost power for about 45 minutes on Thursday morning, according to security personnel at the facility.

Bangor station WABI-TV Channel 5 was without power for part of Thursday morning and had to use a backup generator to continue broadcasting.

Chief Deputy Troy Morton of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday afternoon that dispatchers have been fielding numerous calls regarding downed trees and power lines.

“The fire departments are right out straight,” Morton said.

Detective Sgt. Bryan Cunningham of the Belfast Police Department said that high winds blew a tree branch onto the truck bed after the driver stopped early Thursday morning at the intersection of Crocker Road and Route 3. The branch caused about $1,500 in damage, according to the police report.

According to Dotty Small of the Ellsworth Police Department, North Bend Road was closed for several hours Thursday because of trees down in the roadway. As of around 3 p.m., she said, one lane on the road had been reopened to traffic.

Penobscot Valley High School in Howland dismissed students early because of a power outage at the school, Morton said.

In RSU 24 in Hancock County, school was canceled Thursday at Lamoine Consolidated School, Cave Hill School in Waltham and Mountain View School in Sullivan because of outages. There were power outages on the eastern side of Mount Desert Island, including Bar Harbor and the Mount Desert villages of Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor, but no classes on MDI were canceled.

Hope Elementary School in Knox County also closed because of a power outage, as well as the Ames School in Searsmont, the Gladys Weymouth Elementary School in Morrill, Frankfort Elementary School and the Kermit Nickerson Elementary School in Swanville, all in Waldo County.

BDN writers Andrew Neff, Ryan McLaughlin, Tom Walsh, Seth Koenig, Jen Lynds and Bill Trotter contributed to this report.