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Chris Bitely of Belfast knows things could be worse.
Sure, the globe is still in the throes of a disease pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people, forced much of the worldwide economy to shut down and caused its population to shelter at home for the past month or so. And, thanks to two storms, the power has been out at his home for 100 hours (and counting) by Tuesday morning. But surely some have it tougher, right?
“We’re not suffering a lot. We’re suffering a little,” Bitely said. “I don’t want to overplay it — it’s a little bit of a kick when you’re already down. The fact that we can relatively easily get water and charge our electronic devices is good. And the fact that we have cell service and can connect to the internet. But it is a little bit of a pain.”
Allison Harrell of Searsmont doesn’t like to complain.
It’s true, power went out for her at about 5:30 p.m. Thursday, when she had dinner in the oven, about 20 minutes away from being cooked, and only came back on Tuesday morning, right after she had made her coffee on the camp stove outside. For all those days, it was dark and cold in her apartment, which also lost running water, the internet and the ability to cook on the kitchen stove. But looking on the bright side, at least the extended power outage gave her the chance to rank her favorite utilities (running water was the clear winner).
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“Certainly there are people in our area who are without basic utilities all year round. To have to do it for less than a week in the springtime — it’s doable,” she said Monday before the return of her electricity. “It’s totally all right. But [it gets] less and less fun as time goes on.”
Last week’s storm dumped a foot and a half of heavy, wet snow on parts of Waldo County, which was one of the most-affected parts of the state, with about 80 percent of residents left without power at the height of the outages. In Bangor, about 10 inches of snow fell, with about 4 inches in Portland, according to the National Weather Service.
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The snowstorm also left its calling card in the form of tree damage — by Monday morning, days after it had passed through and as the state was gearing up for the next onslaught of inclement weather, there were limbs and branches piled up on the sides of the roads or in driveways and dooryards. Some limbs were still dangling dangerously over powerlines.
On Friday, just after the snowstorm, more than 245,000 Mainers were left without power. That number dropped precipitously over the weekend, and by 11 a.m. Tuesday, nearly 2,300 Central Maine Power customers in Waldo County, or just under a tenth of the utility’s total customers there, remained in the dark.
Altogether, 9,896 of CMP’s nearly 650,000 customers statewide were without electricity on Tuesday morning. More than 15,000 of Emera Maine’s 167,000 customers also were powerless.
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Some of those now without power lost it Monday, when the second storm started in earnest. But for unlucky Mainers who lost their electricity last week, they figured the latest storm would decrease the chances that utility workers could fix their issues while the wind-driven rain was beating down on the coast.
Still, by Monday, as the rain was pelting against darkened houses and the winds were buffeting the trees outside, the reality of what one midcoast wag termed a “turducken” of disasters — a massive power outage inside a snowstorm inside a pandemic, was beginning to wear on them.
Bitely, who lives with his wife and two children on a private road with only four houses on it, figures his road will not be a priority for lineworkers. They are getting by with the help of battery packs designed to jump-start a car, but which also feature outlets so they can recharge the batteries on their various devices. When the battery packs need a recharge, Bitely takes them to the nearby home of his in-laws, who have power. He also gets water there in jugs that he brings back so the family can cook, do dishes, flush toilets and wash.
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“I joked that this was my first glamping experience, and it wasn’t too bad,” Bitely said. “It’s fine. It’s not great. I think that’s true for everyone in the house. There’s frustration. Just the tediousness of trying to wash dishes, and knowing that I’m getting things like 90 percent clean … I have more to do to keep busy, because everything’s so tedious.”
The house has been warm enough because they still have a functional heat source, a small propane stove.
“It’s not really meant to heat my entire house, but it did heat the house fine, because of the relatively mild spring temperatures,” he said.
Another positive effect has been the fact that his son and daughter grew so bored that they reorganized and cleaned their rooms. As well, the family has had more together time.
“We all huddled around a computer screen and watched a movie, using a cell phone hotspot,” he said. “That was big entertainment.”
Harrell spent the evenings of the outage watching movies, too. At her house, for the first three nights without power, she and her boyfriend chose to watch the “Mad Max” films, which showcase a dystopian, post-apocalyptic view of the future. They also played “Pandemic,” a card game that seemed timely.
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“We’re leaning into the whole post-apocalyptic feeling,” she said on Monday. “It does feel like we’re living in the end times right now, as my grandma would say. We watched ‘Mad Max.’ Played ‘Pandemic.’ We’re just going with the flow.”
Aside from that bit of levity, things weren’t easy during the outage. The apartment doesn’t have a lot of windows, and so the days were dark and the nights “dismal,” she said. There also weren’t any heat sources that didn’t require electricity, so it was cold, though not as cold as it would have been in the deep winter months, she acknowledged. In fact, it warmed up enough that they lost some of the food they had placed in coolers to try to save it from the refrigerator and freezer.
“We lost some stuff but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” she said, adding that the extended outage took a toll. “It’s hard. It’s hard on top of everything else. Already having been under quarantine myself and staying home, it’s a double whammy, that’s for sure.”
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Her daughters left to go stay at their dad’s house, which still has power, on Friday, about a day after the electricity went. And the pandemic, with the associated edicts to stay home and avoid the company of others, complicated how Harrell and her boyfriend responded to the outage. They had offers from close friends and family to let them stay over, to use their shower and washer and dryer.
“In a crisis situation, friends, neighbors, family, they’re having a hard time letting people go,” Harrell said Monday. “We’ve had a lot of offers for help. We haven’t taken anyone up on their offer right now. As the days have been dragging on, we’re giving it more consideration.”
Even if playing card games by candlelight and cooking dinner on the barbecue grill (safely located outside) initially had a certain romance, that’s long gone, she said.
“The novelty has worn off at this point,” Harrell said. “Everything is just a lot more difficult. It makes you a lot more grateful for what you have.”