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After the storm: assessing the damage

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After the storm: assessing the damage

Towns and cities across southern Maine are assessing the damage from last week's ice storm, which caused significant power outages throughout New England.

Gov. John Baldacci's office announced Monday afternoon the state would be eligible for federal assistance to help pay for the storm cleanup. Local officials encourage residents to report storm-related property damage at their town office as soon as possible.

About 250,000 Central Maine Power customers lost power during the height of the storm, which began early Friday morning. While most people in Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough and South Portland got their power back by Saturday, some isolated homes and neighborhoods were without power until Monday, forcing many to take advantage of local emergency shelters.

In South Portland, Fire Chief Kevin Guimond said that 80 percent of the city and roughly 20,000 residents were without power at the height of the storm.

"We had a number of very large primary lines that went down, which caused the majority of the city to go without power," Guimond said.

Guimond said the entire city would have suffered a blackout if it weren't for Central Maine Power, which used a bucket truck to prop up a downed line when a utility pole snapped at the corner of Gorham and Foden – a move that maintained power to the Maine Mall area for three days.

"If (CMP) hadn't done that we would have lost the entire city, which we've never had that kind of damage," he said.

Mill Creek businesses, however, were not so lucky. Many lost power and were forced to close Friday and local supermarkets relied on generators to power their coolers.

Guimond said that about 200 of the roughly 20,000 residents without power visited the emergency shelter on Saturday at the South Portland Community Center, which was staffed by paramedics and volunteers from Cape Elizabeth. While more than a dozen spent Friday and Saturday night at the shelter, most were interested in only warming up with a cup of coffee, taking a warm shower or grabbing a bite to eat.

The city opened its Emergency Operating Center at Central Station to coordinate its storm response, which was complicated by a home fire that started when a resident plugged her electric blanket into her generator. Crews also had to secure a 72,000 volt power line off Main Street, near the turnpike spur, for several hours.

Guimond said the department fielded over 170 calls reporting downed power lines over a 24-hour period, beginning early Friday morning. About 17 city streets were closed because of the downed tree limbs and power lines, but all were open as of Wednesday.

In Scarborough, officials said a combination of careful planning and continued vigilance helped the town slip through the ice storm fairly smoothly.

The shelter at Scarborough High School opened at noontime Friday, with more than 65 people taking advantage of its hot meals, showers and warmth, Scarborough Fire Chief Michael Thurlow said. For close to 20 people, it was also a place to spend the night.

“We estimate at the peak, 90 percent of the town was without power,” Thurlow said Wednesday. “CMP (Central Maine Power) did an excellent job; by the end of the first day, 75 percent of the town had power back.”

Businesses as well as residences were affected, with the entire Payne Road corridor without power and no streetlights, he said. Though 50 roads were closed because of downed trees and wires, Public Works crews had them all cleared for emergency access by the end of Friday. Between the beginning of the storm until Saturday evening, Thurlow said there were 302 calls for service.

A home on Herbert Drive was decimated by a fire that started in the wall behind the fireplace. Residents were able to escape the blaze that began about 3 a.m. on Saturday. The Lions Club and the Pine Point Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary donated money to the residents, who are staying with family.

Director of Public Works Mike Shaw said planning and a full crew helped his department get the ice and snow removed and debris cleared away “in fairly short order.” Two crews from the department and three ground crews he hired from Risbara Construction worked hard to open roads, prioritized by Thurlow.

“It was a real cooperative effort, real good all around,” Shaw said. “CMP was right on – they did a really good job for us that was a big key to us getting back up as quickly as possible.”

Shaw said they've now hired a pulp truck and loader to complement the department's dump trucks as they start removing trees and debris from the sides of the roads.

“The week of Jan. 5, weather dependent, we're going to make what we call our last pass through so if homeowners get their debris out to the side of the road we'll pick it up,” he said. “We'll post where and when and what order on our Web site.”

Shaw said the facility on Holmes Road next to Beech Ridge Speedway would be open for residents to bring their brush for disposal.

Town Manager Tom Hall said the experience the town gained from the Patriot's Day storm last year was invaluable. In the first two days of cleanup, he said, the town has collected 448 cubic yards of debris.

“We really want to be of service to our residents at this time,” he said.

Hall said he expects the town will receive federal reimbursement for a portion of the cost of cleanup and added that it has not yet been determined how the Federal Emergency Management Agency will handle reimbursement for residential damage.

The town has organized an ice storm cleanup to run from Dec. 15 to Jan. 16. From now until Jan. 5, Public Works will clear trees and brush from main roads and from areas where there could be a safety concern. Some neighborhood pickup may also take place during this phase.

From Jan. 5 to Jan. 16, crews will pick up debris by neighborhood with only one pickup per street. Shaw has asked that storm debris be placed three feet from the side of the road.

The landfill on Holmes Road is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and three Saturdays, Dec. 20, Jan. 3 and Jan. 10, for drop-off of brush. There is no charge for residents with proof of residency.

The town asks that people check the Web site, scarborough.me.us, periodically for updates.

“A word of thanks to all the various responders and departments in town,” Thurlow said. “We're blessed we have such a good group.”

Cape Elizabeth had some of the worst damage in the region, according to Town Manager Michael McGovern. He said that the town saw more freezing rain than its neighbors, which brought branches, trees, and power lines down across town. McGovern said that as near as he could tell, 100 percent of the town suffered power outages, most of which lasted through Saturday. He said some residents didn't get power back until as late as Tuesday.

The Fire Department responded to 42 calls over the weekend relating to the storm, including a significant structure fire on Chevrus Road started by problems with a generator.

Beginning on Friday, the town shared a shelter in South Portland, but when that shelter closed, the town reopened its own with the help of the Red Cross at the fire station. That shelter was the last to close in Cumberland County, shutting its doors Monday morning, though McGovern said only three residents used it, and no one spent the night.

The town is offering curbside pickup for storm debris, and will collect as it can in between future weather events. For details on pickup, see the town Web site, capeelizabeth.com.

Peggy Roberts and Sarah Trent contributed to this report. Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.