Tens of thousands of people in central Maine were still without power Tuesday, as power crews worked to restore the grid after a storm that a meteorologist called “unprecedented,” even as officials predicted localized river flooding wouldn’t be as bad as initially expected.

State emergency management and power company officials said at a briefing Tuesday that power is expected to be restored to all but the most remote or hard-to-reach customers by Saturday.

The powerful storm that swept through Maine on Monday left roads covered with downed trees, power lines and debris. The strong wind, which gusted to 70 mph in Augusta, even peeled back pieces of roof in some areas.

Some school districts closed certain schools again Tuesday because of power outages, while a selectman and a school official in Oakland-based Regional School Unit 18 disagreed about what the best thing to do for children in Rome was.

The widespread damage was “unprecedented,” according to meteorologist Tom Hawley, of the National Weather Service office in Gray.

“It was a significant event in the fact that it was very widespread damage, as far as the wind goes,” he said.

Outage reports showed power crews were making some headway. By 10 p.m. Tuesday, Central Maine Power Co.’s outage report showed the number of customers without power in its coverage area, which includes part or all of 14 counties, had shrunk to about 245,000, down from 334,000 reported at midday.

Company officials said they had no preliminary damage estimates because the scope of the damage still is being determined. Reports of fallen trees on power lines still were surfacing Tuesday afternoon.

To date, no deaths have been attributed to the storm.

The effects of the powerful storm continued to be felt across the region during the second day of widespread outages.

By Tuesday afternoon, more than 62,000 customers in Kennebec, Franklin and Somerset counties were still without power.

The Carrabassett River in North Anson crested at 17.71 feet at 4:45 p.m. Monday, Hawley said, which is 2.71 feet above the flood stage. In Skowhegan, the Kennebec River went just above the flood stage and somewhat flooded the area of the Two Rivers Campground, he said.

Rainfall was relatively low in central Maine after the storm. The Augusta State Airport recorded 1.6 inches, and Harmony reported 1.61 inches.

In Winslow, South Reynolds Road and Eames Road are two of the hardest-hit areas in town, and barricades blocking both were removed improperly overnight, according to the public works director. Officials again have closed the South Reynolds Road, which still has low-hanging wires.

Paul Fongemie, Winslow’s public works director, suspects residents have been moving cones and barricades, risking their safety and possibly damaging cables in the road.

“It’s frustrating,” Fongemie said. “That’s why we put the cones out, to protect the public.”

People should never assume that a downed wire is de-energized, he said. An energized wire could damage a car or potentially hurt someone, he said. Also, if a phone or television cable gets run over by a car, it could get damaged and create more work for the companies.

Fongemie expects most of Winslow to be cleaned up by Wednesday, except for areas that still have trees on wires that need to be handled by CMP.

SAFETY IN ROME

Meanwhile, officials in Rome are calling the school district’s decision to open its doors Tuesday “negligent.”

In an email sent to school officials, Selectman Richard LaBelle wrote that the board was “very disappointed” to see that Regional School Unit 18 opened schools.

LaBelle described the damage in Rome as “wide-ranging and significant” in an interview Tuesday morning. Trees were uprooted and snapped, branches were down on lines and residents were using emergency shelters while power is out for 1,085 customers of 1,099.

“We have some of the most significant damage that anybody’s seen in the region,” he said. “Roads are blocked in large part or shut down, in some instances.”

The Rome Board of Selectmen felt it wasn’t safe for buses to travel through the town, LaBelle said, but neither the selectmen nor the road commissioner were contacted by the school district. When asked if that is usually the protocol, LaBelle said he didn’t know, as the town hadn’t seen damage like this since the ice storm in 1998.

“Buses rolled in Rome this morning, and it was in unsafe conditions,” he said.

Superintendent Carl Gartley said school was open to ensure students had safe, warm places to stay after the storm.

“I am also aware that we have many parents who need to work. With no power at home and no day care available, many people rely on schools so that kids will not be left in difficult situations,” Gartley wrote in response to LaBelle.

Cancellations are always difficult decisions, Gartley said in an interview Tuesday. RSU 18’s schools in China as well as James H. Bean Elementary School in Sidney were closed Tuesday because of power outages.

While he said he’s “not sure it was the wrong decision” to hold school, he did not want to say it was the right one until he reviewed the experience with bus drivers and the transportation director later this week.

Gartley wouldn’t say whether he thought the town should have been contacted, as he didn’t know if that is the district’s typical protocol.

“I want to find out more information. I want to find out what is typical. I want to find out what went well,” he said, adding that he also wants “a good process where we communicate with all of the towns” and will work to improve communication with Rome.

Buses carrying Rome students arrived at nearby Belgrade Central School a few minutes late this morning and some had to take alternate routes, Gartley said, but “in general transportation seemed to go OK.”

Alternative Organizational Structure 92 and School Administrative District 49 also closed some of their schools in Vassalboro, Albion and Clinton because of power outages.

HELPING HANDS

In Gardiner on Tuesday, Leon Emery wasn’t selling chicken; he was giving it away in the form of stew.

The owner of Emery’s Meat and Produce said he and his staff had made 30 gallons of stew by midday, and they were prepared to make up 5 more gallons to serve people in need of a free hot meal.

“We came in this morning and realized how many people were still out of power,” he said. “Everyone deserves a hot meal.”

Across the region, the lack of power closed schools in many districts for a second day, leaving some schools, such as Carrie Ricker Middle School in Litchfield and Gardiner Middle School, available for area residents to get water or take a shower.

In addition to the reports of damage to homes and vehicles, some public buildings also sustained damage.

In Augusta, some flashing came loose on the old county courthouse; and the pergola that’s under construction at Hill House, the Kennebec County government building, sustained damage.

Robert Devlin, Kennebec County’s administrator, said an insurance claim has been filed.

With the wind came rain, and public safety officials were watching for potential flooding in the state’s river systems.

At a Maine Emergency Management Agency briefing Tuesday, Sara Burns, chief executive officer of Central Maine Power Co., said hundreds of line workers, from other states and Canada, have been pouring into the state and are being deployed to repair distribution lines damaged by the storm.

Burns urged patience and cautioned people against approaching line workers, as they are required to stop all work when they are approached, and that will delay power restoration. Also, she said, they might not have any information about when power will be restored to specific locations.

Representatives from CMP and Emera, the power company that serves the northern part of the state, were surveying their territories by helicopter or drone Tuesday to get a better idea of the scope and type of damage.

SPOILED FOOD AND GENERATORS

On the ground, Mainers are taking whatever measures they can to get by until power is restored, including searching out fuel to keep their home generators running.

Andy Smith, state toxicologist at the Maine Centers for Disease Control, said at the MEMA briefing that people should make sure they are operating their generators outside and at a safe distance — at least 15 feet — from their homes. A single generator can put out as much carbon monoxide as 100 automobiles.

One of the only downsides of the mild weather after the storm is food spoilage, Smith said.

“If you are out of power and you can’t keep the food in your refrigerator cool, you’re going to have to worry about it being safe to consume. When in doubt, throw it out,” he said.

Emery, who operates markets in Gardiner and Newport, said neither of them lost power, although his home did.

“We’ve got a generator, so we get by quite well,” he said. “We can cook and have showers, but there are a lot of people out there who have nothing.”

Emery invited people to call ahead and let the store know how many people they needed to feed and to bring a container for stew.

“We are providing this at zero cost,” he said. “People are leaving donations and we are forwarding those to the food pantry. This is a community thing. This is what Emery’s Meat & Produce does.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

 

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