May 25, 2020
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Thousands of Mainers stuck at home without power following spring nor’easter

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
A mail carrier makes his way along Howard Street in Bangor behind snapped utility poles.

Over 110,000 Mainers are still waiting for their electricity to be restored two days after a spring nor’easter tore through the state Thursday night, bringing down trees and power lines.

The number of outages is down from a peak of nearly 250,000 Friday morning, but a large swath of the state is still in the dark. As of Saturday evening, Emera Maine was reporting that 30,792 customers were still without power. Central Maine Power Co. has 85,051 customers without power.

The outages are compounding frustrations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, that is forcing Mainers to stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus.

Enduring prolonged power outages isn’t a new experience for many Mainers. The ice storm of 1998 shut down schools for weeks, left thousands without power or heat and killed six people. In October 2017, a windstorm knocked out power to half of the state, leaving some in the dark for a week.

Among those was Bangor City Councilor Gretchen Schaefer, who said she and her family have endured several prolonged power outages in the Queen City in past years, but there is no escape from the most recent outage.

“All of our usual coping strategies are just not possible right now,” Schaefer said. “Not having anywhere to go is hard.”

Schaefer, who resides on the west side of Bangor, lost power around 1 a.m. on Friday. This morning, a friend who had their power restored leant Schaefer’s household a generator, which is powering things like the refrigerator, the internet and small appliances.

But in the 24 hours without power, Schaefer said her family did more driving around than they did all of last month in an effort to charge phones and wireless devices using the car’s USB ports.

While the power was out she also worried about the fate of her freezer, which had just been stocked — her first big shopping trip since the stay at home order was put in place. Luckily, thanks to being stringent on keeping the freezer door closed, her food stayed frozen until the generator was hooked up this morning.

“I could afford to replace it [if I had to] and I recognize my privilege in that, but it was this technical mission to go to the store and get the food and [when the power went out] I thought, ‘Ugh, I have to do that all over again,” Schaefer said.

Typically during a power outage her family would go out to dinner, but take out was the only option and the wait times for getting pizza in Bangor Friday night were over an hour and a half. So after picking up dinner, her family ate pizza around 8:30 p.m. by the light of headlamps.

Schaefer said the power outage caused her to “hit a wall.”

“I’m usually the one who is kind of positive, saying ‘oh this is temporary we’re going to get through this,’” Schaefer said. “Yesterday I was just done.”

Gov. Janet Mills said Friday that power restoration efforts would likely go into the weekend, having directed power companies to restore power to medical infrastructure first. She said she understands that 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.”

Penobscot County has a total of 24,027 customers without power as of Saturday midday, making it the largest affected area for Emera Maine. Nearly 2,594 customers are without power in Washington and Hancock counties combined. About 4,171 people are without power in northern Penobscot County and Piscatiquas County.

For Center Maine Power Co. Waldo County appears to be the hardest hit region it services, with 12,511 out of 25,000 customers without power. Down the coast, Lincoln County had 7,748 customers without power. Kennebec County is currently experiencing about 12,443 outages. Central Maine Power is also reporting thousands of outages in every other county it serves.

Central Maine Power Co. said on its Twitter account Saturday morning that power will likely be restored to most customers by Sunday night. Emera Maine said service restoration estimates will be released later today, according to its website.

“We worked through the night and we have more than 2000 people working hard to restore outages today,” President and CEO of CMP Doug Herling said in a statement. “We understand this is a holiday weekend and that Maine people must stay home because of state orders. We’re working as quickly and safely as possible to repair the system damage and will be out until the last customer is restored.”

Officials from both Central Maine Power Co. and Emera Maine said Saturday that their crews were out in force to restore the outages. Hydro-Quebec, a Canadian electricity company, is sending about 60 trucks and over 40 linemen to Maine later this afternoon to help with the restoration effort.

 


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