More than 100,000 people statewide, including 38,000 in Kennebec County, were without power on Christmas Eve and the state reported the first death due an ice storm that has paralyzed the middle of Maine.
It will be be a blacked-out Christmas for many across the region — utility officials say it will likely be late Thursday before everyone is powered back up.
Temperatures were in the 20s Tuesday and were expected to drop to single digits on Christmas Day.
Early Tuesday afternoon, Sonny Black, a farmer who lives on Hallowell Road in Litchfield, where 98 percent of Central Maine Power customers were out of power on Tuesday, had just gotten his generator going.
Christmas meal plans, however, were still up in the air, with family still set to come to his house on Wednesday.
“I don’t know whether she can cook the chicken on the generator or not,” Black said, nodding to his wife in the house. “That’s the only thing. Everything else will keep on booming, I guess The chores still need to be done.”
At the peak of the day, Kennebec County saw more than 39,000 outages, making up more than half of all CMP customers in the area.
Shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday, CMP reported that 64,000 customers were still without power, and Kennebec County remained the hardest hit, with 27,870 outages remaining.
Thousands were also out in Waldo, Washington, Hancock, Androscoggin, Knox, Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties, and the opening of 19 warming shelters across the area were announced by Tuesday afternoon.
Nearly 20 people had arrived at a Red Cross emergency shelter at the Augusta Civic Center by 6:30 p.m. Many caught a ride from the Augusta warming center or the Bread of Life homeless shelter, which was without power; others arrived on their own.
Shelter manager John Osbun said they had more than 30 cots set up and another room that could be used as backup space if needed. Civic Center staff were providing hot meals, which included chicken parmesan on Tuesday night.
Osbun said he would talk with CMP on a conference call later in the night about when they would be able to restore power in the area.
“We’ll stay open until everybody gets their power back on, as long as it takes,” Osbun said.
Aleticia Knox, 71, said she and her boyfriend lost power at their Sewall Street home at 7 p.m. Monday and had spent Tuesday at the Augusta warming center on Front Street.
“We’ve got to be in a warm place. It’s too cold,” Knox said.
She said their Christmas plans include the annual Christmas dinner at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church on Eastern Avenue.
Death in Knox
State police reported a case of carbon monoxide poisoning in Waldo County this afternoon, the first death apparently related to the ice storm.
Timothy Woods, 50, of Knox, entered a detached garage on his property to refill a generator with gasoline, according to a statement released by Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
When Woods didn’t return from the garage, other family members grew concerned, and found his body in the garage about 15 minutes later. The family called authorities about 5:30 a.m., McCausland said.
About half of the Knox customers of Central Maine Power were reportedly without power shortly after noon Tuesday.
No county was hit harder than Waldo, where nearly 80 percent of Central Maine Power’s nearly 24,000 customers were without power Tuesday afternoon.
Thousands still without power
In Kennebec County, Readfield, Pittston and Mt. Vernon were totally blacked out, and wide majorities were out in 20 of 29 cities and towns in the county, including Gardiner, Hallowell and China.
More than 3,000 lost power in Augusta, where the city announced that the Augusta Civic Center would be opened as the area’s regional emergency shelter, where people will be able to stay for one or two days. The city will be busing people from the Bread of Life homeless shelter and city warming center at 4 p.m.
Gardiner Police Chief James Toman said the Faith Christian Church at 280 Brunswick Ave. will be open as the city’s warming center, open from 3 p.m. through the Christmas Eve service at 9:30 p.m., then open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday.
After that, Toman recommends that residents go to the Augusta shelter.
“We’re prepared to keep it open until the power is back on,” said Roger Audette, Augusta’s fire chief.
Gail Rice, a spokeswoman for Central Maine Power Co., said the company’s goal today is to restore power to the primary lines and to complete the damage assessment to secondary lines.
Although the number of outages continues to be above 80,000, they hope to make significant progress today.
“We’re hoping to knock that number down by quite a bit,” she said.
John Carroll, another CMP spokesman, said the company had established a goal of restoring all power by Thursday evening, but he cautioned that obstacles could still slow the process.
“It’s a goal, not a promise,” he said.
Fifty to 75 additional line workers and 100 tree workers have been called in to the hardest hit areas of Kennebec and Waldo counties, she said. Crews from New York and New Hampshire are also coming in to assist.
While efforts will be made today to restore power to main lines, Rice acknowledged that not everyone will have power by Christmas.
“We have set a goal to complete restoration by late Thursday,” she said. “The damage is too much to complete everybody today. The storm caused a lot of damage.”
The ice storm that started with freezing rain over the weekend and continued throughout the day Monday lingered in the area longer than anticipated, adding weight to already heavy power lines and making conditions for travel difficult leading up to Christmas.
While the rain that fell Monday stopped and the sun came out over central Maine on Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service issued a warning Tuesday afternoon that high winds could cause additional power outages.
The warning says northwest winds will pick up Tuesday afternoon into Christmas Day and the winds could “bring down additional heavily iced tree limbs and power lines.”
Plus, ice may not melt soon, with temperatures expected to drop to near or below zero overnight. Highs on Christmas Day will be in the teens and late Thursday, several inches of snow could hit the Augusta and Midcoast regions.
The damage was especially devastating in rural, heavily wooded areas. In Litchfield, Fire Chief Stanley Labbe said overnight Monday into Tuesday, his crews responded to 100 reports of downed trees in roads. On Huntington Hill Road, he said crews were driving “almost steady” and finding downed trees.
“There can’t be no trees left there,” he said.
“There are, trust me,” chimed in Trudy Lamoreau, the acting town manager.
However, he said the damage fell short of the 1998 ice storm that caused millions of dollars of damage and six deaths in Maine.
Nunzio Biondello, a Brooklyn native who has lived in Maine 34 years, remembers that well, having lived in East Madison then. Then, however, a friend with a motor home was staying at his house, making weathering the storm easier.
But his home on Pine Tree Road, the power was out, and the 89-year-old World War II veteran was one of the first arrivals at Litchfield’s warming center at Carrie Ricker Middle School on Tuesday morning. He said “the lack of my usual comfort” and “needing a nice, hot cup of coffee” brought him.
“I can offer you cold drinks if you want to take me back home,” Biondello said. “Cold drinks, but nothing hot.”
In China, where Central Maine Power reported that nearly all of its 2,555 customers were without power late Tuesday morning, resident Deby Foote, who lost power Monday afternoon, was still without power late Tuesday morning.
She said that, with a generator in place, the family was continuing with its holiday plans to host dinners on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
“Christmas is going to continue on,” she said.
Communities come together
“This is a rough time of year for people to be going through this,” Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said.
“We’re obviously concerned about the number of power outages that spiked yesterday,” she said.
Larry Jensen, the pastor at St. Joseph Maronite Church in Waterville, said he knew of several parishioners who had left their homes to check on neighbors or other church members they thought might need help.
He said no one was found in distress during the checks.
In China, where Central Maine Power reported that nearly all of its 2,555 customers were without power late Tuesday morning, Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said the town was prepared to provide warm shelter for those who might be frozen out of their home with nowhere to go.
“We will keep them warm,” he said.
Those who call the town office will be referred to the China Baptist Church, which is being heated with a generator, but L’Heureux said that, as of late Tuesday morning, no one had yet called the town.
“People are being very creative and self-reliant at this point,” he said.
Town crews were also responding to reports of downed trees and branches blocking the town’s right-of-way.
The Red Cross was working to prepare for those who might have been made temporarily homeless by the ice storm.
“They have agreements with a number of facilities around the state to be regional shelters,” Miller said.
Regional shelters had been established in Brewer, Belfast and Calais, while other shelters were set up in Winthrop and West Gardiner.
Miller said another regional shelter might be opened in Wayne, but that it had not yet been confirmed.
Aaron White, an EMT with the Winthrop Ambulance Service, said only four people had made use of the a shelter set up at the ambulance base as of early Tuesday afternoon.
All four of the people, who he described as elderly and from different households, had found other accommodations within hours, he said.
County directors work with towns and agencies to make the decision about whether to open a shelter. Miller said the judgment calls were made based on predictions of when power would be restored, and how many requests were heard from the public.
Miller also reminded people to use caution when firing up generators, to watch out for traffic lights that may not be working properly, and to be mindful of food that may have spoiled during the outage.
In Oakland, where about 1,000 of 3,500 were reportedly without power, Selectman Byron Wrigley said he had heard reports of scattered outages that were mostly for short periods of time.
Mike Perkins, also a selectman, said he lost his power at his home on Willey Point Road Monday night about 8 p.m., and was still without power at noon on Tuesday.
Perkins, like many others in the area, was using a generator to supply power to the home.
Kennebec Journal City Editor Susan M. Cover and staff writers Matt Hongoltz-Hetling, Keith Edwards and Susan McMillan contributed to this report.