Central Maine Power Company said outages statewide should be down to about 30,000 Wednesday night after a high of 123,000 caused a two-day ice storm earlier this week.
Power line crews from Central Maine Power and out of state continued to work around the clock during the holiday, bringing the gift of power to thousands who were affected by the ice storm.
Still, tens of thousands remained without power on Christmas morning. One death, a case of carbon monoxide poisoning in Knox, was being attributed to the storm and a Whitefield couple was hospitalized Wednesday after being overcome from carbon monoxide from a generator in an attached garage.
Christmas morning was bright but cold, with temperatures around 5 degrees and a wind chill of 11 below in Augusta and Waterville, according to Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray. More snow is predicted for Thursday.
Northern Franklin County escaped the worst of the ice storm, but faced dangerous wind chills early Christmas morning, with readings of between 20 and 30 below on Christmas morning, according to the weather service.
On Wednesday night in Waterville and Augusta, the low was expected to be about 10 degrees, with Thursday afternoon bringing another two to four inches of snow.
“It’s not a major storm,” Curtis said.
Temperatures will rise late in the week, and could approach the freezing mark on Friday and Saturday, potentially ending the cold snap that has helped to exacerbate the power outages.
“Hopefully, that will help with some of the ice on the trees,” Curtis said.
On Tuesday night, Central Maine Power estimated that 123,000, or about one in four of its customers, had lost power at some point during the ice storm, which began downing branches and power lines Sunday morning.
CMP’s workforce of about 200 crews was joined by about 140 crews from Canada, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York.
John Carroll, spokesman for CMP, 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.
In a press release Wednesday night, Carroll said, “With help from companies from Canada and throughout the northeast, we have five times our normal number of line crews, and they have made steady progress in every county affected by the storm.
“The work will continue through the night, but we realize that’s not much comfort to those customers facing another cold night.”
The CMP restoration effort included 1,800 personnel on Christmas Day including 455 line crews and 330 tree crews. CMP reported that it had at least one full restoration team on every circuit serving every community with outages.
Rather than go to one of the many shelters opening in the region, many of those who lost power resorted to burning wood or using generators to get through the loss of service.
Vaughn Tuttle said he lost power at his West River Road home in Waterville Monday night, and fired up his wood stove to compensate for the loss of heat.
“We did just like we did in â€˜98,” he said.
Tuttle said his power was restored early Tuesday morning.
On Waterville’s Morrill Avenue, Jim Dickson said he, too, lost power for about 12 hours on Monday night. He and his family spent the family at his father-in-law’s house in Oakland, and then borrowed a generator to use until the power was restored Tuesday morning.
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.
Trees blockade Belgrade neighborhood
Some of CMP’s crews worked to support the line crews by removing fallen trees and branches.
“It’s been frustrating,” said Belgrade resident Chris Devine Wednesday afternoon.
He said that for the past three days, none of the six houses on Maplehurst Road have had power. Three of the homes, including Devine’s, are cut off from the world because large trees have fallen and blocked the road, which is off West Road.
He and his wife were away from the house when it happened, so they are now able to park beyond the tree and walk through the woods to get home. It doesn’t sound like a long distance, he said, until you’ve done it four or five times in a day, carrying Christmas presents or other items.
His 20-year-old son was at home at the time the tree fell and his vehicle is trapped in the driveway.
“What I worry about is if there’s an emergency,” he said. “Nobody would be able to get to us.”
Devine said he was able to heat his home with the use of a generator, but some of his neighbors were without heat.
He said his family, including his 11-year-old daughter, still managed to have a happy Christmas.
“It’s a bad experience, but you have to make the best of it,” he said.
The highest concentrations of power losses were seen in Kennebec and Waldo counties, where the ice storm had created a 30-mile wide path of destruction, with the Augusta and Waterville region right in the center of the hardest-hit areas.
The number of power outages at any one time peaked at about 87,000 for CMP customers and more than 100,000 statewide late Tuesday morning.
By noon on Christmas Day, that number had been reduced by nearly half, to 48,000. In Kennebec County, the number of outages peaked at about 39,000, and had been reduced to about 25,000 on Wednesday afternoon.
Widespread outages were still being reported in China, Gardiner, Litchfield, Manchester, Mount Vernon, Pittston, Randolph, Readfield, West Gardiner, Windsor and Winthrop, where all or a large majority of customers remained without power on Christmas morning.
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Early on Christmas Eve, state police reported a case of carbon monoxide poisoning in Waldo County, the first death linked to the ice storm.
Wednesday afternoon, a Whitefield couple was hospitalized after a generator in an attached garage leaked carbon monoxide into the house, according to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department. The couple, who weren’t immediately identified, were in their early 80s.
Tuesday, Timothy Woods, 50, of Knox, was in a detached garage on his property, refilling a generator he was running inside the garage with gasoline when he was overcome, according to a statement released by Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
When Woods didn’t return to the house 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 24,000 customers were without power Tuesday afternoon. The number of those without power in the country had been reduced to about 11,000 by Christmas morning.
Communities come together
“This is a rough time of year for people to be going through this,” said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
County emergency management directors were working with towns and agencies to make the decision about whether to open shelters. 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.
People from various sectors of the community pulled together to mitigate the effects of the storm.
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.
At Inland Hospital in Waterville, Dr. Simon Gibbs said that before patients were released, the hospital was checking on whether they had power at home.
“No one wants to go through a surgery and then go home to a cold house,” he said.
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. There were numerous reports of people using alternative heating systems, such as wood stoves, or emergency generators as backup systems.
“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 roads.
Wednesday night, The Senator restaurant in Augusta opened its doors to 750 linemen from CMP and out of state for a meal hosting by CMP.
The restaurant is normally closed on Christmas.