Thousands of Central Maine Power Co. customers were left in the dark Tuesday evening after freezing rain deposited a heavy ice load on tree limbs, causing branches to snap and fall on power lines.

Just under 20,000 customers had no power as of 9 p.m., with most of those outages in Cumberland and Oxford counties, according to outage data on CMP’s website. Falmouth, Windham and Cape Elizabeth were the hardest-hit towns in Cumberland County.

After working through the night, CMP crews had reduced the number of outages to 15,674 by 6 a.m. Wednesday. Oxford County had the bulk of those outages with 6,401, Androscoggin had just over 3,000 and Cumberland County had 607.

The freezing drizzle and rain began overnight Monday and lasted through much of the day, creating icy conditions throughout southern Maine. The National Weather Service said there was at least a quarter inch of ice, and possibly more in some places, on trees, roads and surfaces, making it extremely treacherous to be out on foot or in a motor vehicle.

The precipitation ended Tuesday night, but left surfaces caked in ice.

“Temperatures are still struggling to get above freezing,” meteorologist Bob Marine said around 8 p.m. “There’s no real melting going on right now. The trees are loaded with ice, and it has become an issue for most of us.” Wednesday’s forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 37 degrees, Marine said. “Wednesday is going to be a nice day if we can just get through this mess,” he said.

Gail Rice, a spokeswoman for CMP, tweeted that the company’s outage reporting website was experiencing issues, meaning the numbers that customers were seeing on the site were not necessarily accurate. Rice emphasized that crews assigned to restore power do not base their efforts on the company’s outage site.

“I want our customers to know that (the website glitch) is not affecting our ability to get service back up,” Rice said, noting that restoration crews know where the outages are because their work orders are based on outage and damage reports.

She said glitches in the outage reporting system were not being caused by smart meters. “The smart meters are working exactly as they should be,” she said.

The $200 million smart-meter network designed to improve outage communications and storm recovery failed during the October windstorm that knocked out power to half a million Mainers.

On the roads, the slippery, slushy conditions slowed traffic around southern Maine throughout Tuesday.

Several accidents were reported, including a crash on Route 202 Tuesday night in the York County town of Alfred. People were injured and a LifeFlight helicopter was called to the crash site, but additional details were unavailable.

In Windham, a car struck a utility pole early Tuesday on Gray Road, near Windham High School, knocking out power to hundreds of homes. Windham police said the roads were covered in ice and that the driver fell asleep. The driver suffered minor injuries.

In Bangor, Maine State Police said a car traveling east on Interstate 395 left the slush-filled highway and came to rest on top of a median strip guardrail late Tuesday morning. A photograph of the car perched on top of the guardrail was posted on the state police’s Facebook page.

State police also said an auto parts delivery van hit a slush spot, went off Interstate 95 in Palmyra and flipped over Tuesday afternoon. No injuries were reported.

Speeds were lowered to 45 mph on the Maine Turnpike during the day, but the limit was removed Tuesday night around 6:30 p.m. Although mostly rain was falling in southern Maine by the afternoon, plows still worked to clear the roads of ice and standing water, as well as lay down salt.

The Maine Department of Transportation recommended that motorists refrain from using cruise control in the icy weather.

Heavy rain also caused some localized flooding. In Portland, standing water clogged the southbound on-ramp to Interstate 295 on Forest Avenue.

Staff Writer Matt Byrne contributed to this report.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

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