From Staff and wire reports
Wild weather was the theme across much of Maine on Thursday from lightning strikes suspected of causing a major power outage early in the day to a tornado watch that stretched across most of the state into the evening.
The Maine Emergency Management Agency used the state’ s Citizen Alert at www.maine.gov to warn people of the tornado watch that began at 1 p.m. and was slated to last until 7 p.m. The watch, which covered most of Maine excluding Down East, was called off by 6:15 p.m.
A funnel cloud was reported in Bridgton, where trees were uprooted by high winds. Kirk Apffel of the weather service office in Gray said a team will be sent to the site Friday to inspect the damage and determine whether a tornado had hit the area.
Torrential rains hit western Maine towns as a wave of severe thunderstorms rolled through the state, causing outages that at one point knocked out virtually all of the eastern part of the state.
“It was raining cats and dogs, and maybe a cow or two,” Rumford police dispatcher Tracy Higley said after a downpour in the western mountain town. Heavy rain also was reported in Paris and other towns, and there were numerous reports of wind and lightning damage, the National Weather Service said.
Central Maine Power Co. reported more than 3,000 outages late Thursday afternoon affecting customers from York County in the south to Dover-Foxcroft in Piscataquis County.
“What we’ re getting now is widely scattered, but we’ re keeping an eye on it pretty closely,” said CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice.
The weather service said thunderstorms across much of Maine could produce up to 2 or 3 inches of rain in some areas, large hail and damaging winds that could reach 70 mph.
Violent storms including possible tornadoes swept through central New Hampshire on Thursday and destroyed several homes, killing a woman inside her home and injuring a dozen others.
Police and firefighters were checking door-to-door into the evening for more victims in areas along Northwood Lake, and probably would do so through the night, state Fire Marshal William Degnan said.
He said Brenda Stevens, 57, was killed and her husband and 3-month-old grandchild were injured. He gave no details, except to say the three were in a home that completely collapsed.
Downed trees and power lines blocked many roads, delaying emergency responders.
“This was a highly destructive storm causing a tremendous amount of damage in a short period of time,” Gov. John Lynch said at an evening briefing.
On Thursday morning, a systemwide power outage that stretched across four Maine counties created concern for Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. customers who found themselves without lights or water.
A lightning strike may have caused the outage that left about 115,000 Bangor Hydro customers in the dark for a couple of hours starting shortly before 8 a.m., utility spokeswoman Susan Faloon said.
After power was restored, Bangor Hydro officials began investigating the cause of the incident but still couldn’ t pinpoint it late Thursday afternoon.
“The focus has been on restoration,” Faloon said. “Most customers are back up by now, and those that aren’ t should be up shortly.”
The company’ s entire service area in Penobscot County, a small portion of Piscataquis County and most of Hancock and Washington counties were affected by the outage.
The only exception was a small portion of Eastport that was able to keep the lights on because of Bangor Hydro’ s voltage regulator station that’ s located in the city which comes on when the power goes down.
Eastport City Manager George “Bud” Finch on Thursday described the problem as more of a “nuisance and frustration” than a major problem.
“We remain on the outside edge of a power grid system and continue to suffer power outages anytime there is a glitch in the main transmission lines,” he said.
Finch said he was more concerned about power outages this winter. “A power outage such as this during a winter cold spell could have most homes freezing up in the time it took for power to be restored,” he said.
Finch noted that there were plans in the works eventually to harness the tides of the bay and ultimately generate local power, but that is way down the road.
While most of western Washington County was struggling, people in the Calais area and parts north and east were not. They get their power from Eastern Maine Electric Co-op in Calais.
“So far this morning, the thunderstorms that heavily impacted the Bangor Hydro-Electric delivery grid have had little impact on Eastern Maine Electric Co-op,” EMEC company spokesman Charlie McAlpin said Thursday. “Although lightning was intense during the night, only 10 or fewer EMEC members were affected by outages at any given time.”
In much of central Maine, the streetlights and traffic signals were out, but Bangor police Sgt. Allen Hayden said drivers took precautions.
“There was nothing as far as accidents go,” he said. “We had a number of alarms coming in here, but that’ s normal with outages.”
Hollywood Slots on Main Street in Bangor never missed a beat. The gaming facility’ s large generator kept the slot machines operating.
Eastern Maine Medical Center and Bangor International Airport also kept things going using auxiliary power systems.
The Riverside Cafe on Main Street in Ellsworth had patrons eating by candlelight during the outage.
“It was really dark,” said cook Jesse Pierce. “We had to boil water to keep the coffee going. We could keep on cooking, though, because we have mostly gas appliances.”
In Bar Harbor, the power went out around 7:30 a.m., causing one popular eatery temporarily to limit the number of customers it could wait on.
Jordan’ s Restaurant, a Cottage Street business that gets lots of breakfast customers, cooks primarily with propane and so was able to continue serving meals, according to Kelly Paine, the restaurant’ s manager. She said the kitchen exhaust system runs on electricity, so when the power goes out they have to limit the number of meals they prepare at the same time so the kitchen doesn’ t get too hot and activate the fire sprinkler system.
“I had probably about 30 people” seated in the dining room during the outage, Paine said. Normally, the restaurant can seat 120 people.
A waiting line formed out front on the sidewalk and when the power came back on soon after 9 a.m. they all came inside for food, she said.
“We got whammied,” Paine said. “Our customers were very understanding.”
Approximately 2,700 Central Maine Power Co. customers lost service Thursday morning in connection with the Bangor Hydro outage. Company spokeswoman Gail Rice said that CMP has a circuit that shut down in the Hermon area about 8 a.m. and was restored at 9:45 a.m. The affected customers were in much of Hermon and parts of Levant, Carmel and Kenduskeag.
“That was our only major outage,” Rice said.
During the outage, Gov. John Baldacci urged Mainers to remain calm.
BDN writers Aimee Dolloff, Diana Graettinger, Nok Noi Ricker, Walter Griffin and Bill Trotter contributed to this report.