Only 20 homes in Harpswell kept their lights on during the pre-holiday snowstorm; statewide, 4,169 CMP customers still had no power Friday night.

HARPSWELL –– As power outages piled up across southern and coastal Maine late Wednesday and into Thursday morning, the town of Harpswell stood out like a sore thumb.

Or, more accurately, it stood out like a whole hand, because the geographically unique town consists of fingerlike peninsulas and islands that jut out into the ocean.

For every snowstorm that causes widespread power outages, there is usually one area hardest hit, and during the pre-Thanksgiving Day storm, it was Harpswell.

By Thursday morning – after as much as a foot of heavy, wet snow fell and knocked out power to more than 100,000 customers across Maine – all but 20 of Harpswell’s more than 4,400 homes had lost power. That’s 99.5 percent.

The number hadn’t improved much by Friday morning, although by 11:30 p.m. all but about 552 houses were back online.

Across its service area, Central Maine Power Co. had restored power to all but 4,169 customers by 11:30 p.m. Friday.

Like many hardy Mainers, those who call Harpswell home didn’t seem too bothered by the outages, even on a holiday.

Rob McAleer, the town’s emergency management director and former director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, hosted dinner for his daughter and son-in-law, who drove up from Boston.

They couldn’t use the stove, so instead of turkey, they barbecued, he said.

“Maybe we’ll cook the turkey today,” he said.

McAleer said he has a gas-powered generator that keeps his home’s essentials – the refrigerator and the well – running. He’s lived in town long enough to know generators are a good idea. Judging by the constant whirring Friday, many other residents employ generators, too.

Of the town’s many peninsulas and islands, the southernmost stretch, which locals refer to as the “neck,” was hit hardest. Snow weighed down every limb and branch along Route 123, which runs line a spine down the peninsula.

CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said Harpswell is often hard hit because of its geography.

“It sticks out into the ocean and really gets hammered by these (nor ‘easter) storms,” she said.

When power outages occur, it often takes crews longer to repair them because even if crews can restore power to the main line, there are hundreds of side roads off Route 123 that need to be addressed. In many cases, Rice said, that can only happen when the main line is down.

On Thursday and into Friday, CMP had between 200 and 250 lineman out in the field across the company’s service area, and another several dozen who drove down Thursday from Canada to assist.

Rice said CMP was prepared for the storm and asked for an emergency order from the governor Wednesday to get assistance from Canada, but the weight of the snow on trees and lines created challenges.

CMP crews target areas where repairing a line will affect the most customers. That means those who live in outlying areas often have to wait longer.

Many in Harpswell said outages are common, but the situation has improved in the last couple of years because of aggressive tree-trimming efforts.

Southern and coastal Maine were hit hard Wednesday, but nearby New Hampshire was worse off.

At its peak, more than 200,000 homes and businesses were without electricity there, the fourth-largest outage in state history, according to The Associated Press.


Back in Harpswell, Gail Johnson runs Ship 2 Shore, the main general store on Route 123.

She and her husband, Charlie, enjoyed Thanksgiving with their son and daughter-in-law in Portland, only to return to a powerless home.

They brought chairs down to the basement and huddled by the wood stove to stay warm.

By the time Johnson woke up Friday to open her store, power still had not been restored, but she went to work anyway.

“I wanted to be here as soon as it came back so people could come in if they needed anything,” she said.

One customer was waiting outside the door at 6 a.m. to buy cigarettes, Johnson said. When she told him she couldn’t open, she said he was “irate about having to drive all the way to Brunswick.”

By about 10 a.m., power came back at the store. The first thing Johnson and her employees did was brew coffee.

Dorothy Litchfield stopped in at Ship 2 Shore at lunchtime. She had been driving all morning from Vermont, where she spent the holiday with her son.

She said she didn’t know whether she would have power or not, so she picked up a half-gallon of milk and a hamburger to go, in case the food in her refrigerator had gone bad.

“If the power doesn’t come back, I’ve always got friends,” she said.

Kristi Eiane, the town’s administrator, opened up the town office as a warming shelter Friday, although no one took advantage of it.

“I have a generator, but I feel for the people who don’t,” she said. “That’s why I’m here today. Just in case.”

Dave Fortier, the town’s interim fire chief, said outages in Harpswell began Wednesday night as snow fell at a steady clip. A car went out of control and smashed into a tree, which toppled onto power lines. Fortier said the accident caused widespread outages but created another problem as well. The massive tree blocked Route 123, the only road out of South Harpswell.

“Late in the evening, we got a call about a woman who had carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator,” the chief said. “She needed to get to the hospital (in Brunswick).”

Fortier said public safety officials quickly hatched a back-up plan. They would transport the woman by ambulance and then transfer her to another ambulance waiting on the other side of the downed tree.

“I was on the phone with CMP and I told them I didn’t care about the power at that point. This was about safety,” he said.

Thankfully, they didn’t have to put that plan to use. The first ambulance was able to get around the tree.

But the anecdote served as a reminder that Harpswell is the end of the line in a lot of ways, a fact its residents are acutely aware of.

Cindy Forsyth is among the handful of homeowners on Stover’s Point who live there year-round. A power line has been lying across her driveway since Wednesday and she didn’t know when it might be fixed.

“We’re always last,” she said. “Although I’m sure if the seasonal residents were here, those lines would be fixed.”

Forsyth didn’t get to cook a turkey on Thursday, but used her wood stove to cook chili and cornbread. That worked just fine for a Thanksgiving meal, she said.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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