The state’s two largest utilities had their hands full Thursday after a nor’easter blew across Maine, leaving a trail of downed trees, fallen electrical lines and powerless homes. Both Emera Maine and Central Maine Power Co. had to hire outside crews — including some from Canada — to help with the recovery.
But by midday, Thursday’s storm was shaping up to be much less severe than the one that plowed through the Pine Tree State on Oct. 30, 2017, knocking out power to almost 500,000 customers — even more outages than followed the state’s historic ice storm of 1998.
Fewer than half that number — almost 215,000 at the storm’s peak — lost power Thursday as the nor’easter made landfall and migrated up to Aroostook County, according to numbers from Emera Maine and CMP.
But Emera Maine said late Thursday it would be working through the weekend to restore power to its customers, while CMP advised some of its coastal customers to prepare for multi-day outages.
Judy Long, spokeswoman for Emera Maine, said the utility had about 80 crews working midday Thursday, compared with about 200 who were working in Maine after the storm two years ago. About 40,000 of its customers were without power at one point Thursday, while the peak number of outages in 2017 was around 90,000.
On Thursday, the majority of Emera Maine’s crews directly worked for the company, but some were contractors from New Brunswick, New Hampshire and Maine, according to Long.
Some of the greatest damage was concentrated in communities along the coast, such as on Mount Desert Island and the Blue Hill Peninsula. Southwest Harbor alone, with a population of about 1,700, had more than 1,500 reported outages. The town of Blue Hill had 801 Thursday afternoon, while nearby Deer Isle and Stonington had almost 1,500 combined.
Around noon, that was clear from the brisk business taking place at RL Greenlaw & Son Inc., an Irving gas station in Deer Isle that locals know as “Millpond Service.” Demetrius Pezaris, a mechanic at Millpond, said that since opening at 7 a.m., the station had been filling an average of five or six gas cans per hour so residents could power their portable generators.
CMP, which has a larger service area than Emera Maine, expected a total of 400 crews to work on restoring power after Thursday’s storm, including 300 that have been contracted from Canada, Connecticut and New York, according to spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett.
CMP also had to address an issue on the section of its website that shows the estimated time when power will be restored to individual streets. Early in the day, the website showed that power would not be restored in some places until Jan. 1, 2068 — almost 50 years from now. By the early afternoon, it just said that the company was “Assessing” the restoration time for each location.
Since 2017, both Long and Hartnett said that their companies have worked to improve communication with county and local emergency management agencies before, during and after storms.
That’s helped CMP prioritize roads in communities and decide where to focus initial efforts to clear trees and fallen power lines, according to Hartnett. She said the utility has also worked to improve the presentation of information on its website.
Since 2017, Emera Maine has also worked to more quickly remove downed power lines when they are reported. This week, the company spent several days before the nor’easter consulting with a meteorologist about what damage the weather could bring, making sure it had all the necessary workers in place and coordinating how they would respond to reports of fallen lines, Long said.
Long urged anyone with questions or concerns about the storm to call customer service representatives at 207-973-2000. She also reminded customers that just because a utility truck is passing through an area, it does not mean that power will necessarily be restored immediately.
“Some people see a truck and think, ‘Oh, my power is not back on,’” she said. “That may be because the truck is addressing a downed line and making sure it’s safe, or doing a damage assessment.”
BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.