Mainers like to boast that they live in the nation’s most heavily forested state, but residents paid a heavy price for that distinction when a deadly nor’easter whipped the coast with winds gusting to 81 mph.
Thousands of those trees were knocked over, the prime cause of power outages for more than 125,000 homes and businesses at the storm’s peak last Monday.
By Friday, utility crews from as far away as Nova Scotia and Pennsylvania were converging on the last pockets of homes still in the dark.
Tom Shanks, a line worker from Nova Scotia Power, marveled at the size and volume of Maine’s trees as two cutting crews used hydraulic saws to buzz through a pair of 75-foot-tall pine trees, sending wood shavings floating down like snow.
“These are bigger trees than we have back home. We were down in Alfred and Sanford. The pine trees — they’re humongous,” Shanks said.
As the utility crews continued their work, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency came to Maine and visited hard-hit York County, parts of which received more than 8 inches of rain during the coastal storm.
FEMA Administrator David Paulison joined Gov. John Baldacci and Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins in Portland before traveling to Saco’s Camp Ellis, where several homes were swept from their foundations and roads were washed out.
Paulison said he was impressed with how well emergency response personnel from federal, state and local levels worked together.
“It’s obvious to me this system worked very well as it’s supposed to, unlike some things in the past that we won’t mention,” Paulison said in reference to the response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.
Damage estimates for public roads, bridges and other infrastructure reached nearly $30 million on Friday, said Lynette Miller of the Maine Emergency Management Agency. That didn’t include damage to private homes and property.
In Maine, the storm claimed the lives of a Sanford man who was overcome by fumes from his generator and of a Lebanon woman and her 4-year-old granddaughter from New Hampshire who were swept away while trying to cross a water-covered road.
The storm, described as the worst since the ice storm of 1998, overwhelmed Central Maine Power utility crews, who put out a call for assistance.
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as other utilities in Maine, sent more than 600 line workers and tree cutters, more than doubling CMP’s existing field workers.
Eighty-five percent of Maine is covered with trees. That amounts to 17 million acres of trees. With so many trees and 23,000 miles of power lines — mostly along roads — wind storms always create problems, said John Carroll, CMP spokesman.
Often, line workers had to wait for tree cutters to clear the way, and sometimes crews had to wait for washed-out roads to be repaired. Crews also had to replace nearly 325 broken utility poles.
By Friday afternoon, there were 3,300 homes and businesses, mostly in the service area surrounding Brunswick, without electricity. Utility crews hoped to have power restored for all but a couple hundred by Saturday morning.
On their fifth day without electricity, residents of a couple dozen homes here on the Sandy Pine Road in South Freeport shared the dubious distinction of being among the last Mainers to get electricity following the storm.
“It’s a distinction I’d prefer not to have,” said Mary Claire Murphy, who survived on peanut butter-and-honey sandwiches and heat from her fireplace.
Murphy was one of several residents who came outside to thank the utility crews, who’ve been working 17-hour shifts, for coming to Maine to help out.
Up the road, Andrew and Heather Dodge made the best of the situation — he described it as “camping except that you sit on upholstered furniture” — but they were ready to use their lights and use their kitchen instead of a camp stove.
With her husband away on a trip, Heather Dodge held down the fort with their three boys for two nights before giving up and heading to a motel for two nights. She eventually purchased a $700 gas-powered generator and returned home.
“We’re really excited” about getting the lights back on, Heather Dodge said as the four utility trucks converged at the end of the street.
Kevin Murphy, a utility worker from Halifax, Nova Scotia, said Mainers seemed to be coping quite well with the storm’s aftermath.
Then again, Mainers must be used to it. With so many trees, there’s no getting around the occasional inconvenience of power outages.
“I’ve been amazed by the trees, the size, the health,” Murphy added. “We have all kinds of trees, but nothing that size.”
AP writer Clarke Canfield in Portland contributed to this story.
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