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  • Tammy L Wells

York County Comes Together as Damaging April Storm Wreaks Havoc on Grid: Emergency Officials, Communities, Residents Pitch In

YORK COUNTY, Maine – The heavy, water-laden snow that fell on April 3 and 4 wreaked havoc on the electric grid in every municipality in York County and across much of the southern and central parts of Maine. Those in the know – emergency management folks and electric company representatives – say this storm rivaled the ice storm of 1998 that people still talk about.


It was an exhausting, wearisome, difficult several days for those working very long hours trying to cope with the storm’s impact, and for those at home, worried a tree limb would crash through their roof, if they’d lose the food in their refrigerator, and if they could stay warm.


And though there were more than 90,000 of the 129,000 Central Maine Power Company customers in York County without electricity at its peak, by Tuesday morning, April 9 – less than a week later, most were reconnected.


That happened because of line and tree crews – Maine crews and others from as far south as the Carolinas – along with firefighters, emergency medical personnel, police, dispatchers, public works, municipal emergency management directors, and York County Management Agency, worked together and got it done.


In all, CMP deployed more than 1,000 crews to restore power throughout their system in southern and central Maine.


The county EMA, located in a wing of the York County government building in Alfred, has been working these sorts of disasters and others for years. They work hand-in-glove with local first responders, prioritize the calls that need attention first, and help make sure matters are as safe as possible when there are tree limbs on power lines or trees and other debris in the road or a utility pole has snapped.


The six full time York County EMA employees and three part time staff activated the Emergency Operations Center around 8 p.m. on Wednesday April 3. They worked in shifts, and some slept over – snatching a nap when they could, amid the hubbub. The EOC wound down early Monday.


It is a matter of focus, organization, and plain slogging through for these folks and for the first responders, no matter how weary.


In the first 24-30 hours of the storm and response, the county Emergency Operations Center crew processed and prioritized 460 calls and submitted them to CMP, said Deputy Director Megan Arsenault. The figure does not include the calls that came in following that period.


“By YCEMA handling this volume, it really reduces the strain on the CMP dispatch center in Augusta,” said York County Management Agency Director Art Cleaves.


The system has been in place for years, and it works.


CMP Communications Manager Dustin Wlodkowski said the relationship is strong.


“We’re proud of our close, decades-long partnership with York County EMA and the other EMAs around our state to clear roads blocked by trees, respond to emergencies and make areas safe,” said Wlodkowski. “This work we do together is essential, both every day and during storms.”  


The storm was expected, and York County EMA knew it would be significant.


“Little did we know it would be of this magnitude,” said Cleaves. Heavy wet snow that damaged much of the electrical grid in York County came in silently, arriving just after 5 p.m. Wednesday evening as a light mix of rain and snow - and then got worse. As much as 21 inches of heavy wet snow fell in some inland locales, lesser amounts at the coast.


It brought a big punch. Trees and tree limbs came down on power lines and into the roadway from Kittery to Old Orchard Beach, and inland to central and northern York County.


York County hospitals were on generator power for a time, first responders couldn’t always make their way to calls due to the amount of trees, wires, and debris in the roads, and there was worry about potential issues at municipal sewage treatment plants.


“There were so many competing priorities,” said Arsenault. When calls come in concerning life safety issues, the ability to speak directly with the CMP service center in Alfred is a big help, she said.


“They were typically handling six priorities at the same time, trying to coordinate the response,” said Cleaves of the EOC crew.


EMA crews had earlier placed generators at communications towers, just in case. A cell tower lost capability at one juncture, complicating matters.


There was more. It soon became apparent help was needed in the form of spaces where crews could sleep. Cleaves said he got a call from CMP, looking for assistance, because while they had been able to book some hotel rooms, there weren’t enough. Cleaves called area fire chiefs and school superintendents – and they helped.


Weary crews, tired after many hours of putting York County’s grid back together, one line at a time, slept in school gyms in Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach and RSU 57 among others, in fire stations in Kennebunk, Cornish, Ogunquit and York, at an Ogunquit, in all hotel rooms available, and on the second floor of the York County Court House in Alfred.


Some communities pitched in to provide food for the crews working 12 hour shifts.

Laura Dolce, director of the Chamber of Commerce for Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel, put out the word over the weekend that donations of food would be welcome to help feed crews – and the response was immediate and robust. “Cars were backed up at Kennebunk Fire and Rescue, with people waiting to drop off donations,” she said.


Restaurants and community members donated everything from pizza to homemade lasagna, and food that could be consumed on the road, and cases of drinks.


“The second Kennebunk Fire Chief Justin Cooper asked for help,” the towns jumped into action, she said.


Folks in other communities also did their bit – at First Baptist Church in Shapleigh, volunteers put on a free community pancake breakfast on Sunday morning – the church had electricity, when many folks in town did not. The dining room smelled of bacon and pancakes and syrup, and folks chatted as ate.


Pastor Ken Baratta, mindful of the power outage, said he called some parishioners on Saturday about hosting a free breakfast, open to anyone, before the 11 a.m. service on Sunday. “The volunteers came together,” he said.




Ben Belanger and Brittany Parr, both of Central Maine Power  parent company Avangrid and Jim Nassif of the York County Facilities Department  clear the second floor of York County Court House in Alfred of cots and bedding after line crews working to help CMP restore power to York County spent two nights there. All hotels open for the season were full, so some crews  stayed in school gyms, a community center, three fire stations, at the courthouse.


York County Emergency Management Agency activated its Emergency Operations Center 8 p.m. Wednesday April 3, fielding calls from first responders through municipal and regional dispatchers as trees crashed into roadways, and onto power lines, making roads impassible in many York County locations and knocking out electric power to more than 90,000 here at its peak. The EMA’s Larry Hammond and Richard Gaudreau are shown here, taking calls.




Parishioner Daniel Bryant was making pancakes at First Baptist Church in Shapleigh on Sunday morning, after volunteers came together to host a free breakfast after the storm that left so many without electric power.




Line crews from all over – including these folks from New Brunswick, Canada, helped restore electricity after an April 3-4 storm knocked out power to as many as 90,000 York County rresidents at its peak. While some crews, like these folks at the Rhumb Line Resort, were able to stay at a hotel, others were housed in fire stations and school gyms. Here, line crews are enjoying pies from Arundel House of Pizza. Individuals and restaurants from throughout the Kennebunks donated food and cold drinks to help augment meals. - Courtesy Photo Rhumb Line Resort

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