A spring storm pummeled much of the state and the central Maine region overnight, as tens of thousands of residents awoke Friday to no power after wet, heavy snow brought down tree branches and power lines.

Road conditions were making it difficult for emergency services personnel to reach people this morning. A Winthrop ambulance had to turn around at Seavey Corner Road in Vienna due to downed trees blocking their path. Mount Vernon Deputy Fire Chief Jason Beckler and Capt. Ron Lockwood drove down Journeys End Road in Mount Vernon to find a tree blocking it, keeping vehicles from getting in and out.

Hunter Tubbs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said the Augusta area saw about 10 inches of snow, while Gardiner got about 10.4 inches and Sidney got 11.5 inches. Farmington also saw about 10 inches of accumulation.

Tubbs said he “wouldn’t bank” on another event of this magnitude happening again this year, but said it was possible that more snow could come, especially in mountainous regions of the state.

“I’ll say that for this weekend and early next week, there’s a big warm up,” he said. “Yesterday and this morning’s snow was unusual for this year.”

Emergency services volunteers said Friday morning they had responded to dozens of calls in the previous 12 hours, and they were out trying to keep roads open enough to allow emergency vehicles to pass.

There were no injuries reported, but many reports of cars sliding off the road as the snow continued to fall this morning at higher elevations in western Kennebec County.

One woman walked outside her house to survey the damage from a tree limb, and said she was inside sheltering with eight other people. She said somehow they still had power as she looked at the electrical service and wires pulled down by the fallen branch.

Central Maine Power was reporting about 202,300 customers without power early Friday morning. As of 3:47 p.m. Friday, there were 183,686 customers still without power statewide, including 35,353 in Kennebec County, 22,292 in Somerset County and 14,425 in Franklin County.

CMP spokesperson Catharine Hartnett said the storm crept up quickly and caused significant damage with the company’s coverage area. She said that hospitals and food distribution locations are being prioritized, and the utility was working with those organizations to meet their needs as soon as possible.

“In light of the pandemic we are making sure all medical and critical care facilities have power and we will work as quickly and safely as we can to restore power for all,” Doug Herling, CMP president and chief executive officer, said in a press release.

Hartnett said that more crews were coming in to repair lines on Friday, but social distancing practices have forced line workers to travel separately, prolonging their arrival to areas with damage. Further complicating repairs, she said, some roads in northern portions of the company’s coverage area were not plowed.

“You have to get up close to see the extent of damage before you can estimate how long it will take to repair it,” Hartnett said, adding that customers should be prepared to not have power for more than a day.

In Waterville during the wee hours Friday, a city plow truck got stuck when it struck a downed power line on Evergreen Drive, while a tree fell across the road on Silver Street.

Around 9 a.m. in Readfield, fire Capt. Josh Black was directing traffic on Route 17 where a tree had fallen across the road.

“Move! Move! Move out of the way!” Black shouted at a pickup truck, as he took cover behind his own vehicle as the truck slid across the slushy snow and ice.

The National Weather Service in Gray was estimating the central Maine region would see between 4-8 inches of snow when it was all over, but the accumulations appeared to reach at least 1 foot in some areas.

Temperatures in the region hovered right around the freezing mark Friday morning, with the forecast calling for snowfall to continue and taper off in the late afternoon. Temperatures were expected to climb to near 40 degrees.

Gov. Janet Mills ordered state government offices closed for the day Friday, and noted that residents continue to be under a stay-at-home rules in an attempt to lessen the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“With heavy, wet snow causing dangerous driving conditions and power outages, I am closing State government offices,” Mills said in a statement. “I thank all Maine people for rising to the new challenge of a spring snowstorm in the middle of a pandemic by staying at home and traveling only when absolutely necessary so our first responders and road crews can work safely.”

In Waterville, Director of Public Works Mark Turner said the storm knocked down trees and power lines across the city.

“We’re waiting for CMP to clear some of the lines,” he said. “They’re making progress most of the power is restored now but I think the great majority of the city lost power from this storm. Here at public works the power was knocked out until 8:30 a.m.” 

On the department’s Facebook page, Augusta Public Works officials said the spring storm was their biggest of the plowing season, dropping some 9 inches of heavy wet snow on city streets.

The storm, perhaps indirectly, took out some of the city of Augusta’s phone system, and internet and email access for city employees which remained out for much of the day Friday.

A power line that goes into Cony High School became overloaded Thursday night and overheated, melting the casing from those wires and causing — at the intersection of Cony and Haskell streets — the burning casing material to fall down onto the fiber optic lines below and catch them on fire. Losing those fiber optic lines took out the city’s central phone system and its Spectrum internet access.

Fred Kahl, director of information technology for the city and schools, said the city was able to switch over to a different system and retain phone service to city buildings, though for several hours lines, including the business line into the police station, didn’t work. He noted the 911 system never went down and was not impacted by the problem, and police radios also continued to work.

Kahl said losing fiber optic lines to fire is rare, because those lines don’t carry any electricity.

“We had a piece of rotten luck,” he said of the power line melting onto and catching the fiber optic line on fire.

He said once Central Maine Power crews repaired the electric line, Spectrum workers and a subcontractor went to work restoring the fiber optic lines, which he anticipated would probably be back functioning by the end of the day Friday. The problem was first discovered Thursday night.

 

Managing Editor Scott Monroe, Kennebec Journal photographer Andy Molloy, reporters Sam Shepherd and Keith Edwards, and Morning Sentinel reporter Molly Shelly contributed to this report.

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