‘You can’t get there from here’ – storm leaves towns grappling with blocked roads, outages

A worker carries away a piece of roof debris while cutting damaged metal off George E. Jack School in Standish on Monday. The storm ripped up most of the steel on the back side of the school’s roof. 

RAYMOND — The record-setting storm that blew through Maine early this week continues to cause problems across the Lakes Region, where thousands were still without power as of Thursday morning.

The storm, with winds that reached 69 mph in Portland and initially caused more than 400,000 Central Maine Power customers to lose power, has drawn comparisons to the Ice Storm of 1998.

As of Thursday morning, the CMP was reporting that more than 21,000 in Cumberland County were still without power: 104 in Bridgton; 447 in Casco; 1,005 in Gray; 670 in Naples; 467 in New Gloucester; 744 in Raymond; 472 in Sebago; 2,713 in Standish; and 996 in Windham.

Raymond Town Manager Don Willard said Wednesday there was “a lot of damage” in town and that many homes, including his, were still without power.

A radio communications tower at the Raymond town office collapsed when a spruce tree fell on it, Willard said. The tower is used for public works communication, and Willard said having it offline complicated storm recovery efforts. It is now standing again.

When the tower fell, it also caused a wall in the central part of the town office to buckle. Willard said the damage within the building – evident on the wall in one of the restrooms – is “significant” but has not comprised structural integrity.

“In my career, this would be the biggest even I’ve seen,” Willard said of the storm. He was working on the coast during the Ice Storm, and didn’t see the type of damage that other communities did at the time.

Willard said the town’s first priority is to make roads and areas where there are downed power lines passable and safe for residents. Restoring power is an important but secondary concern, he said, noting that power restoration ultimately rests with CMP.

Willard described both public works and public safety staff as “exhausted” from their efforts to clean up and respond to calls.

“All my people here are impacted by the same things,” said Fire Chief Bruce Tupper, discussing how members of the public safety department were working to help the town rebound while dealing with the storm’s impact at their own homes.

Tupper said Wednesday that that several parts of Raymond are still “heavily impacted” by downed trees and lines.

“Obviously we have a lot of people isolated right now and you can’t get there from here,” Fire Chief Bruce Tupper said.

While Tupper said he understands people’s frustration about the power outage and road conditions, he urges people to be careful.

“I would steer clear of everything right now,” he said about downed trees and lines.

After speaking with CMP, Tupper’s impression Wednesday was that there would be a “big difference by this weekend.”

“I told my wife Monday,” Tupper said about when he thought power might be back at their house.

While he didn’t have an exact tally of total rescue calls in the days since the storm, Tupper estimates there had been about 90, which he said is closer to a normal monthly total. Those calls included a generator fire and a carbon monoxide incident.

Tupper also said the public safety building was without phone and internet service until Wednesday morning, and the lack of those services had been “crippling.”

Despite those challenges, Tupper said that Raymond and Casco officials have been “working hand in hand since the whole thing began” and as of Wednesday were starting to collaborate on a shared warming center at the Casco Community Center.

Casco Town Manager Dave Morton said Wednesday that his town has “a good working relationship” with Raymond and neighboring Naples.

He said that Casco was hit hard by the storm, and that “almost every road was closed at one point.”

Morton acknowledged that many people are frustrated with the lack of power, but said that he thinks CMP is “doing all they can.”

“We’re all in the same boat,” Morton said.

“I wouldn’t hold anybody to blame, except maybe Mother Nature. And she’s not very responsive,” Morton continued.

Windham Fire Chief Brent Libby said that at one point early this week, about 32 roads were closed in town. As of Wednesday, parts of t Anderson and Land of Nod roads were still closed.

Libby said that the department received 93 calls in 24 hours on Monday, and that a normal day sees about eight or nine calls.

“That’s a bit of a spike for us,” Libby said.

Libby added that in situations of downed or affected wires, the department has to defer to CMP.

“The biggest thing we can do is try and direct traffic as best we can,” he said.

Windham Police Chief Kevin Schofield said he thought that “people have done a pretty good job of adapting” and that “we’ll get through it as a community.”

In Standish, Town Manager Gordy Billington said Wednesday that “half the town has no power” and that it was “hard hit.”

The town office was still without power Wednesday, though Billington said a  generator was powering some of essential services.

“This is as bad as the Ice Storm,” Billington said.

As of Wednesday, Billington said there had been no estimate from CMP on when the other half of Standish could get its power back and that much of the town is “still being assessed.”

Saint Joseph’s College, which a spokesperson said had power restored Wednesday, was designated as a warming center for Standish residents. The college’s Alfond Center was made available for restrooms, showers and power sources. Residents  could also use the Wellehan Library for power, computers and other resources.

In New Gloucester, Town Manager Carrie Castonguay said “everything was hit pretty hard” and that “the town crew did an amazing job.”

She estimated “at least half” of New Gloucester was still without power as of Wednesday, and that water was available for residents at the town public works garage and town office (with a limit of 20 gallons per person at the town office).

Castonguay said that while this storm was rivaled only by the Ice Storm, she was thankful it didn’t happen during the winter months.

“Thank goodness it’s not February,” she said.

The storm also caused problems for area school districts – with SAD 6, RSU 14, SAD 15 and SAD 61 all canceling school at least Monday and Tuesday.

The George E. Jack School in Standish “suffered significant damage” to its roof, according to a message on the SAD 6 website from Superintendent Paul Penna. The district is working with contractors “to complete all of the major repairs required to make the school habitable.”

“When we return to school, those students will be transported to the middle school where we have classroom space already prepared,” Penna continued, adding that Standish Rec will also be held at the middle school, which is in Buxton.

SAD 6 schools remained closed Thursday.

SAD 15 Superintendent Craig King said Wednesday that while all Gray-New Gloucester schools were closed Monday and Tuesday, every school except Burchard A. Dunn School in New Gloucester were able to open Wednesday. He wasn’t sure if Dunn would be able to open on Thursday.

King said that the Dunn school had the most damage of any schools in the district, and that trees falling in the area caused electrical problems.

King also said Wednesday that G-NG High School would be available at certain hours through Friday so that families without electricity could take showers.

RSU 14 Superintendent Sandy Prince said Wednesday that all Windham-Raymond schools would all be open Thursday. All schools had been closed Monday and Tuesday he said, and Windham schools were able to open Wednesday while Raymond schools were not because of power.

Prince compared this week’s storm to the Ice Storm, saying this week’s was “probably the most significant storm that I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

“Everybody did a really good job just trying to pull their weight,” he said.

SAD 61 Superintendent Al Smith said that the storm has been “pretty traumatic” and gave kudos to Facilities Director Andy Madura and his team for doing a “phenomenal job” getting the schools back up and running.

Smith said Wednesday that all district schools would be open Thursday. Several of the schools had already reopened, but Sebago Elementary did not get power back until Wednesday.

Smith said the logistics involved in responding to an event like this storm are complex – ranging not only from how to get students and staff safely to school and getting power back on, but also including aspects like moving cafeteria food from schools without power (and refrigeration) to other functioning cafeterias.

“There’s a lot more to it than people realize,” he said.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

A worker carries away a piece of roof debris while cutting damaged metal off George E. Jack School in Standish on Monday. The storm ripped up most of the steel on the back side of the school’s roof.

Utility poles along Shaker Road in New Gloucester, near Shaker Village, were snapped by strong winds from Monday’s storm.

The Oct. 30 storm wiped out a number of trees, including a Spruce at the Raymond town office. That tree compromised a communications tower and also damaged the building.