Irene’s fury: Region picks up the pieces

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

When Clint Libby heard a “cracking” noise, he and his wife immediately wrapped their arms around their children and went to the floor of their ranch-style home on Cross Street in Bridgton.

Seconds later, they heard a thud and felt the home move.

A towering pine tree had snapped midday on Sunday as the result of Hurricane Irene’s powerful wind. The tree landed on the home’s roof. Luckily, the roof managed to absorb the blow, and no one was injured.

“I think it moved the house off the foundation,” Libby said. “The good news, of course, is that no one was hurt.”

Gusting wind raised havoc across the Lake Region, knocking down trees and causing scattered power outages. Central Maine Power initially reported that 187,000 customers were without electricity as of 9 p.m. Sunday. York (44,545) and Cumberland (34,330) counties led the outage count.

According to the CMP website, the following number of roads were still without power as of 8:31 a.m. Wednesday (note: these figures represent only reports made by customers. Actual locations with outages could be more extensive than indicated): Bridgton 80, Harrison 39, Naples 106, Casco 87, Fryeburg 27 and Denmark 43.

At press time (noon), the numbers were: Bridgton 73, Harrison 20, Naples 103, Casco 87, Fryeburg 20 and Denmark 41.

CMP set a goal of complete recovery by Thursday night. Some notable facts:

• As of Wednesday, additional crews were brought in from out of state, increasing the field workforce to more than 750 workers, assisted by hundreds of support personnel.

• Crews found 259 broken poles (the third highest number destroyed since the Ice Storm in 1998) and replaced more than 205 through Tuesday afternoon.

There were plenty of signs locally that residents prepared themselves for the worst. Hayes True Value’s flashlight stock was nearly cleaned out with just a few models left hanging on the shelves Sunday morning.

In preparation for the storm, the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center (CCRCC) scheduled additional staff, scheduled a County IT staff member to be present at the CCRCC, had meetings with the Cumberland County EMA and worked closely with the public safety agencies to plan expected workloads and develop contingency plans.

Despite all the planning, as the storm entered Maine, the calls for service began to go into the center very quickly. Each of the 10 workstations and 9-1-1 lines were constantly in service. Within just a couple of hours the CCRCC lost CMP power, however, immediately transferred to one of the back-up generators and never lost power.

During the storm, the CCRCC dispatched more than 600 emergency calls for service to the public safety agencies around the County. In addition to the constant calls for service, at one point radio communications with several agencies was lost. The CCRCC staff members took quick action to move each agency to another frequency and continue dispatching all calls for service.

CCRCC Director William Holmes said, “I had the privilege of observing the staff members handling the numerous calls and the loss of radio service with precision and professionalism. I was very impressed with the performance of the CCRCC staff and how well they worked together as a team. I am proud to serve as the Director of such a dedicated group of professionals and want to extend my sincere appreciation to each of them for a job very well done for the citizens of Cumberland County.”

Local fire departments had close to or over 100 calls Sunday regarding downed trees and limbs.

By Tuesday morning, CMP had cut the number of outages in half from the storm’s peak. Approximately 93,000 customers remained without power as of 9 a.m. Cumberland County was down to 25,631, but several pockets in Bridgton, Casco and Naples remained without power. One Casco resident was told late Monday he could be looking at “a minimum of four days” before power was restored. Meanwhile, many residents monitored CMP’s website, which listed roads where power was still out.

“Irene brought a challenging combination of high winds, heavy rain, and flooding that affected nearly every community in our 11,000 square mile service area,” said Tom DePeter, director of Operations for Central Maine Power on Tuesday. “We made it through the ‘make safe’ phase of the storm without injury to the public or our workers, and we’ve made good progress in the next steps of our restoration plan.”

The utility reached several recovery goals in the first full day following the storm. The company brought in nearly 500 outside workers to assist with tree clearing and power line repairs. Transmission lines were repaired to re-energize all of the substations that feed roadside distribution lines. Utility personnel also completed their survey of the company’s primary, three-phase distribution system, and most of the system has been re-energized.

“It could be several more days before we can get service restored to all of our customers,” said Depeter, “but our goals for tomorrow will be to cut the number of outages in half again, to complete our damage assessment, and to project when we’ll be finished with the restoration.”

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