AUGUSTA — Power outage numbers were up and down Friday morning, but Central Maine Power Co. hopes to restore power to nearly all customers by late evening.
The company reported 6,451 outages at 11 a.m. but was back up to 8,401 at 11:30. Most were in three counties: 3,234 in Kennebec, 2,180 in Lincoln and 1,877 in Waldo.
In a news release, CMP said crews are working to restore service to all “accessible buildings” and year-round customers by late Friday evening. Some roads remain blocked by downed trees or other barriers, CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said, and it may take longer to restore service in those areas.
Despite several inches of snow that fell Thursday, CMP hit its target to reduce outages to fewer than 10,000 by Thursday evening.
A peak of about 87,000 CMP customers lacked power on Tuesday morning, and an estimated 123,000 have lost power at least once since 1 a.m. Monday, midway through the two-day ice storm.
Fresh snow fell Thursday as Pennsylvania-based utility crews jammed Richmond Mills Road near a rural four-way intersection, getting ready to power the line leading to Richard Lee’s home, blacked out since Monday.
Lee had been running generators to power his refrigerator and lights when he had to, but the wood stove inside kept the old farmhouse on Walton Road warm enough. For him, lack of power was an annoyance, but nothing more.
“I could move to Florida, then you’d just have tsunamis or something,” Lee said.
“Nothing happens here,” he joked. “Nothing.”
But the ice storm that hit Maine Sunday and Monday was a rare event.
Power had been restored to most, but not all, in heavily populated areas like Augusta, Gardiner and Hallowell by Friday morning. Hundreds were still blacked out in the more rural towns of Litchfield, Monmouth, Wayne and Winthrop.
Even those without power in the Augusta area are luckier than those north and east — Bangor Hydro, the main utility in northern and eastern Maine, said that in Down East’s Hancock County, everyone may not be back on line until the end of the day Wednesday. Power to many in Penobscot and Washington counties likely won’t be restored until Saturday evening.
Many people spent Christmas Day in the dark or at local warming centers or shelters, many of which were closed in central Maine on Thursday.
Power crews also worked through the holiday, and on Thursday, the Red Barn, a seafood restaurant on Riverside Drive in Augusta, announced it would feed utility crews and tree crews free of charge until restoration work is done.
Statewide, 19 warming centers and emergency shelters were open Thursday afternoon, including the Augusta Warming Center on Water Street and the Winthrop Ambulance Base on Old Western Avenue.
Storm-related emergency calls slowed in many areas on Thursday, and Richard Beausoleil, director of the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency, was off work after what he called “six days of hell.” Early in the storm, the county’s roads were littered with downed trees and fires sparked on utility poles.
Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said county emergency agencies are keeping track of the cost incurred in the response to the storm in case the state opts to apply for federal disaster funding later on.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed off on a $48 million appropriation to four states, including Maine, which got $25 million after a two-week ice storm. The storm caused six deaths in Maine, damaging more than 11 million acres. Each of the state’s 16 counties was declared disaster areas.
Miller said there are no estimates of storm damage and associated cost now, but it’s less than the 1998 storm. However, with inflation and increased costs, the total may be comparable.
“I think the actual damage to public infrastructure, like roads, is minimal,” Miller said.
In Wayne, two-thirds of the town was without power late Thursday afternoon.
But crews were making their way around town, and first responders there were lucky: Brian Roche, the town’s deputy fire chief, said the department only got one storm-related call during the week — a blocked chimney. Downed trees missed roads and people were well-prepared, he said.
Ford Stevenson, owner of Stevenson’s Strawberries on Berry Road, was prepared: His freezers and home were powered through the week by a 2,500-kilowatt generator, powered by the shaft of his John Deere tractor. The only downside, he said, was the cost of the 30 or so gallons of fuel it uses daily.
In a blackout, that kind of power can go to a person’s head. He said on Christmas, his wife wanted to plug in their Christmas lights.
“Even though a lot of people had them on, I just didn’t feel good about that,” he said. “That was a little too ostentatious for me.”