Storm steals power, cripples some businesses
FALMOUTH — It may not have reached the magnitude of the Ice Storm of 1998, but last week's fury of freezing rain left about 220,000 Central Maine Power Co. customers – nearly 40 percent statewide – without power and wreaked devastation great enough for six counties, including Cumberland and Sagadahoc, to qualify for federal disaster assistance.
At least 90 percent of Falmouth residents were without power for at least a portion of the storm, Lt. John Kilbride said, adding that the police station itself ran on generator power for two days.
Several people slept in the town's emergency shelter at Falmouth High School, which opened at 2 p.m. on Friday and remained operational until Sunday morning, Kilbride said. Many others dropped in for showers or to eat the hot meals provided by the American Red Cross.
Police received an extra 40 calls for service during the storm that were mostly due to alarms being tripped by the power outages, he said. There was also a slight increase in car accidents due to the lack of working traffic lights. Patrols were increased along the business district on Route 1.
"Route 1 was one of the last areas to come back, as opposed to the 1998 storm when (outages were) mostly in the west," Kilbride said.
All Falmouth Public Works and Parks Division employees were out working during and after the storm, Director Skip Varney. The department's phone and computer systems were down, but with everything going through dispatch, it didn't cause any problems, he said.
Though he said this storm did not compare to the one in 1998, Varney said his crew had to go out every half hour to scrape debris out of the way. After the initial push, he was able to send some workers home for rest, knowing they'd be needed again soon. Proactive road treatment in advance of the storm combined with vigilance in monitoring the roads for continued treatment resulted in few problems and a savings in sand and salt.
The Fire Department received about 62 calls for service between Thursday afternoon and Saturday evening, Fire and EMA Chief Howard Rice said Tuesday. Calls began with a car sliding off Blackstrap Road and included calls about carbon monoxide alarms going off, water problems resulting from inoperable sump pumps, a tree blocking a road and people who were nervous about the storm.
Early Friday morning, crews answered back-to-back calls for an ammonia odor at Family Ice, a sprinkler going off in the library and a house fire on Foreside Road.
The fire broke out in the wall surrounding one of the chimneys, burning through one side, but was contained by firefighters to the room of origin, Rice said. Cumberland and Portland both sent ladder trucks to assist the Falmouth crew. Both of the residents and their bird got out safely.
Rice said the town will be evaluating ways it can improve on its emergency service next time. When looking at the first-time operation of the shelter at the high school, he said officials will be "looking for volunteers to run it in the future."
Route 1 businesses were hit hard by the storm, which closed them down on what was hoped to be a busy pre-holiday weekend.
At Leavitt & Sons deli on the corner of Route 1 and Depot Road, Pete Leavitt lost a lot of his products because of the power outage and took some of his perishables home to keep refrigerated.
"A lot I was able to salvage with a generator," he said. "But anything that's questionable, you don't take any chances on."
"The frustrating part is not having any concept of when the power's coming back on," he said. "If I had known, I could have been prepared."
Dunkin' Donuts General Manager Ray Fernald said Tuesday that four of the area's stores were without power, forcing them to move their refrigerated products to the Northgate store in Portland. The donuts and muffins they moved to other stores quickly sold out because "so many people were out of power and were trying to buy whatever they could."
Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane said he didn't think his town was hit as hard as Falmouth, but was nonetheless impressed by the coordinated efforts of the Fire Department, Public Work, and volunteers in clearing roads, setting up a shelter and making sure citizens were safe and warm.
Three times, beginning early Friday morning, automated reverse 911 calls warned residents of conditions and recommended they stay at home – although residents with digital phone service were not able to receive the calls because cable lines were down.
Until Saturday afternoon, Shane said about 80 percent of residents were without power; the number was down to 30 percent by Sunday. Two homes that were still without power as of Tuesday required an electrician to reattach lines that had been ripped from the houses.
West Cumberland was more seriously hit by outages due to half-a-dozen snapped utility poles, and was the last area of town to go back on the grid. Damage was not nearly as bad as the ice storm 10 years ago, Shane said, when it "looked like the whole forest had come down."
Shane credited CMP's proactive tree trimming over the last decade with minimizing downed lines.
A shelter was established at Greely Middle School Friday afternoon and later moved to Town Hall, where it remained open through Monday morning. No one stayed overnight, Shane said, but 68 people came to get updates and "recharge" physically, mentally and electronically, as they plugged in laptop computers and cell phones.
The Fire Department responded to 70 calls over the weekend, including carbon monoxide alarms, sparking outlets due to faulty generator wiring, and a structure fire on Whitney Road in Gray.
"Everybody worked really well together," Shane said. "This is what we train for, and it worked."
The town will evaluate the need for increased dump hours or curbside pickup to collect storm debris, but Shane said he doesn't expect anything to happen until spring, after winter has run its course.
On Chebeague Island, fire crews were available throughout the weekend, Town Hall was opened up and a handful of residents made sure meals were available for those who needed to get away from cold, dark homes.
North Yarmouth saw little damage, Town Administrator Scott Tilton said, so a shelter was never opened. Some trees came down, and some homes' power went out, he said, "but there were no disasters," and the town will not seek any emergency aid funding.
In Freeport, Fire Chief Darrell Fournier said there were 64 storm-related emergencies. There were calls for falls on the ice, flooded basements, downed power lines, carbon monoxide alarms, smoke in buildings and overheated wood stoves.
"Neighbors looked out for neighbors," he said. "Everyone made sure to keep an eye on their friends and family."
As of Monday morning, Desert Road, Merrill Road, Estes Drive, Spar Cove Road, parts of Staples Point Road and the Duckaway trailer park were still without power. Fournier said parts of Birch Point Road, Guptil Avenue and Maquoit Road were also some of the last areas to receive assistance.
In the downtown area, Fournier said north of Mallett Drive there were no power outages, but one side of Main Street was dark due to the way the power grid is designed.
An employee of Yankee Candle at 6 Mill St. said the power was out from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday so the store had to close.
An employee of Hartmann Inc. at 56 Main St. said they had no power all day Friday, but across the street, Starbucks had power.
On either side, Cool as a Moose at 100 Main St. and Burbury at 42 Main St. never lost power.
"It's hit-or-miss in the village," an employee of Burbury said.
For those who experienced more than just a flicker, there were shelters and warming stations to help people get through the powerless nights.
Caroline Krahn, director of sales at the Comfort Suites hotel, said they offered discounted rates to those without power, and were booked since Friday.
She said she has seen a lot of families and older residents checking in from South Freeport, Durham and Pownal.
"These people were able to get a free breakfast, use the phone, wi-fi and television," Krahn said. "We are glad to help. The guests look happy and are sharing their own stories about the storm."
According to dispatcher Kevin Morton, most Yarmouth residents had power by Monday morning, but the dispatch center was busy all weekend.
"There were elderly people who had no power for days," he said. "We received calls from Thursday to Monday."
Lt. Dean Perry said there was nothing over and above routine calls about lines down, flooding basements and power outages.
"There was no looting," he said.
Detective Gino Bianccini said a robbery took place, but it was unclear whether the ice storm had anything to do with it.
An employee of the Irving gas station on Mallett Drive arrived at work at 5 a.m. and found a safe moved outside the building. Apparently, someone had entered through the back door and attempted to remove two safes from the store.
According to Bianccini, there was a substantial amount of money that was removed. One safe was stolen, and the other was left outside the store.
Otherwise, Fire Chief Byron Fairbanks said the storm had no unusual impact on the town.
He said he and his staff and members of the Police Department went door to door Sunday checking on residents who had no power. They visited residents on Bayview Street, Sisquisic Trail, Little John Island, and the Baywood, Evergreen and Lone Pine areas.
"Our efforts were well-received," he said. "No one really needed anything, but it was good to check."
Fairbanks said the only problem with having inclement weather is the town's lack of a public shelter.
"We did not set up a shelter for those in need because we do not have the facilities to house them," he said.
Fairbanks said there is always the ability to allow people to find shelter at the fire station on North Road, but it is not a long-term solution. If necessary, people would need to go to Falmouth or the Topsham shelter at Mt. Ararat High School.
"If there is a situation where there is a lot of people in need," he said, "we will need to be a lot more prepared."
Amy Anderson and Sarah Trent contributed to this report. Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.