More than 200,000 Mainers were without power Friday afternoon after a springtime storm dumped heavy snow through Thursday night and into the morning — and not everyone will have service restored by the weekend.
More than 180,000 Central Maine Power Co. customers and 58,000 Emera Maine customers were without power as of 5 p.m. Friday — outages that certainly are being keenly felt by Mainers who are stuck at home maintaining physical distance from their friends and relatives in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Gov. Janet Mills said Friday that she knows it is frustrating for many residents to have to deal with both a lack of electricity and precautions in Maine about the deadly disease.
“It is frustrating to be asked to meet new and seemingly never-ending challenges with courage, patience and compassion,” Mills said. “Everyone is wondering how this will all last. It’s okay to be tired and frustrated.”
Mills acknowledged some Mainers are concerned about having frozen food spoil, which can be troubling for people who are reluctant to leave their homes to go grocery shopping, but she said restoring power to food distribution centers is among the top priorities.
“I think Maine people know how to deal with this because they’ve dealt with outages before,” Mills said. “Fortunately, the temperature is still down some,” which can help preserve food longer, she added.
Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, added that Maine expects next week to get $11 million in federal funding to support the department’s supplemental food program, which can help people who might have food spoil because of the outages.
On its website, Emera Maine said that some customers are expected not to get their power back on Friday.
“Emera Maine crews are assessing damage and addressing hundreds of reports of lines down Friday morning, particularly in Penobscot and Hancock counties,” the company said. “Restoration efforts are expected to continue into the weekend, and more specific estimated restoration times will be shared once damage is assessed.”
Central Maine Power Co. said on its Twitter account that many of their customers also are not likely to get their power back until Saturday, or possibly later.
“We are advising that given the extensive scale of outages, customers should be prepared to be without power for a couple of days,” the company said. “We will provide restoration estimates when we can. We’re working with county and local emergency management officials to clear trees and branches from roadways to make communities safe.
Peter Rogers, director of Maine Emergency Management Agency, said the agency is assisting power distribution firms to ensure that electricity is restored to hospitals, health care facilities, and food-distribution centers, many of which are running on generators.
“We also understand that many Mainers are observing the state’s stay-at-home order, making electricity and telecommunications needs even more necessary,” Rogers said. “Given the widespread nature of the damage, we expect this to be a multi-day power restoration effort. We know this is a difficult time for Mainers and we ask for patience as we work through this challenging event.”
Representatives of CMP and Emera said they already have implemented precautions for their workers to help protect their health, such as riding in separate vehicles and keeping several feet apart, and are asking the public not to approach restoration crews out in the field, out of concern both about the coronavirus and potential hazards from downed power lines.
“Observation of these important protocols is not expected to affect crews’ response to storm-related outages,” said Emera Maine spokesperson Judy Long.
The majority of Emera’s outages are in Hancock, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, Long said. According to information on Emera’s website, there are more than 9,000 customers without power in Bangor and Brewer alone.
Catharine Hartnett, spokeswoman for CMP, said that the company’s similar coronavirus protocols might be making their response less efficient than it would be, but added that the storm damage is significant, even with the COVID-19 concerns.
“It was not ice so much as very wet, heavy snow – and the snow came further south than any forecasts had predicted,” Hartnett said. “Along the coast we experienced driving rain with gusty winds. All of these conditions cause tree branches to fall on the lines – and sometimes whole trees, causing wires to come down and poles to break.”
Most of the CMP outages are in Kennebec County, which has more than 35,000 customers without electricity, while Somerset and Waldo counties each have roughly 22,000 outages.
Parts of Piscataquis County recorded the most snowfall overnight, with Wellington reporting 20 inches and Rockwood reporting 16 inches at 6 a.m. Friday, according to the National Weather Service in Caribou.
Penobscot County also saw sustained snowfall, as Stetson reported 14 inches, Hampden 13 inches, Brewer 10.5 inches, Orono 9 inches and Millinocket 7 inches. Bangor Airport recorded 5.6 inches, according to the NWS.
In Aroostook County, snowfall was less than predicted with 8 inches in Bridgewater, 5 inches in Fort Kent and 2.9 inches in Caribou.
The heavy, wet snow combined with strong gusts of wind likely caused many power lines and trees to come down overnight.
Androscoggin and Kennebec counties, where many outages occurred in the state, recorded up to 7 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service in Gray. Auburn recorded 7.8 inches, Gardiner 7 inches, Lewiston 6 inches and Winslow 4 inches.
The southern coast received substantially less snowfall. Brunswick reported 2.8 inches and Portland reported between 1 and 3 inches, according to the NWS.
Despite the storm, roads are fairly clear for those who must travel for essential jobs.
Speed limits are reduced to 45 mph on the Maine Turnpike from Falmouth to Augusta. Speed limits remain normal between New Hampshire and Falmouth.
WGME contributed to this report.