STAFF REPORT

Waterville resident Paul Pelletier was watching television Wednesday night about 6:30 at his School Street apartment when he heard a loud rattling.

Then he saw a large tree crash down outside his window. It landed on top of a car belonging to another tenant.

“I was kind of stunned,” Pelletier said of the storm. “It was crazy.”

Three trees fell amid the sudden burst of high wind, taking power lines down with them. School Street was blocked off because of electrical wires dangling across the road, and many residents remained without power until Thursday afternoon.

Many more were shocked across central Maine as a fast-moving storm barged in at the end of sunny day, uprooting large trees across the region and wreaking havoc. with high winds, lightning, heavy rain and hail.

At The Last Unicorn restaurant on Silver Street in downtown Waterville, the high wind swooped in about 6:45 p.m. and pummeled the outdoor dining area, according to owner Joe Plumbstead. After customers were moved inside, metal tables, chairs and umbrellas were flung over and a city-owned lamppost felled into the seating area. One of the tables landed on the foot of a bartender and she was taken to the hospital and put on crutches, Plumbstead said.

“It was just bedlam out there,” he said. “Everything blew everywhere. This street can be a wind tunnel, but I’ve never seen a wind come on as strong.”

The lights eventually went out — as they did for many in Waterville — so they closed for the night about 8 p.m., Plumbstead said. Many Waterville users had power back by midnight.

Central Maine Power spokeswoman Gail Rice said peak outage in its service area occurred at 10 p.m. Wednesday when 18,000 of the company’s 600,000 accounts were without power. Peak outage in Kennebec County, she said, was at 9:30 p.m., when 6,080 customers were without power. By late morning, 720 were still without service in Kennebec County.

In Somerset County, as of 10:50 p.m. Wednesday, a high of 4,575 homes and businesses had lost power and 300 still were without service in the morning. In Franklin County, 2,565 lost power by 7:30 p.m. and service had been restored to all but 950 clients by the morning.

Rice said Central Maine Power expected to have service returned to all of its customers by late Thursday night.

The thunderstorms stretched mostly across Western Maine and New Hampshire, traveling at about 35 mph and producing estimated wind speeds of between 50 and 70 mph, according to Andy Pohl, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray. The weather service considers wind speeds of at least 58 mph to qualify a thunderstorm as “severe,” he said.

“That’s where the damage really starts to occur,” Pohl said. “Primarily, it was tree damage.”

CMP crews worked through the night to restore power to about 80 percent of the company’s customers who lost power Wednesday night.

“The strong gusty winds brought trees, limbs, and branches into power lines, knocking out service to thousands Wednesday evening,” Rice said.

In Somerset County, the first reports of trees and wires down came from U.S. Route 201 in The Forks just before 6 p.m. Wednesday, as severe thunderstorms packing high winds, lightning, heavy rain and hail slammed into central Maine.

The wind brought trees, limbs and branches into power lines, knocking out service to thousands of homes and businesses. Nearly 30 calls reporting power problems were taken by the Somerset County Communications Center in Skowhegan over the next 90 minutes from Jackman to St. Albans and Palmyra.

“Dispatch got slammed pretty hard in the 6:30 to 9 p.m. range,” Somerset County Emergency Management Director Mike Smith said Thursday. “A lot of it was in the northern and western parts of the county — New Portland, Highland, Lexington to the Jackman area. I had an email from the Jackman fire chief who said one section of road up on Route 15 there were about 50 trees down in the road.”

Other than high winds bringing down some small tree limbs and power lines, the most severe storm conditions missed most of central and northern Franklin County. Most of the storm damage in the county happened in Jay and Chesterville, south of Farmington, where high wind brought down trees, limbs and power lines, said Tim Hardy, the county’s emergency management director.

Residents in several other Franklin County towns reported downed tree limbs and power lines, but no injuries or serious incidents were reported, he said.

The storm didn’t just cause trees to fall on power lines.

On the shore of China Lake off Lakeview Drive, Marlene Bernier watched as the wind stirred white-cap waves.

Then, the wind and waves pummeled her aluminum dock and motor boat; both were flung into the air and landed upside down in the water. Two wooden sections of the dock floated away somewhere, but were later found, she said.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Bernier said. “That whole dock just went up into the air and — boom! — it was upside down.

Staff writers Doug Harlow, David Robinson, Beth Staples and Scott Monroe contributed to this report.


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