MACHIAS — After the discovery Saturday of severe damage to a major transmission line, Down East residents worried it could be days or weeks before their power is restored.
But Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. spokesman Bill Cohen said a wood-fired electric plant in Jonesboro could help restore power to area customers as soon as Monday afternoon, and limited power already has been restored to some customers by tapping into “good parts” of the existing system, he said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Angus King visited the area Sunday, pledging to have the National Guard provide water and other emergency supplies.
The Down East region has had a double whammy in recent days. Last week, a power line running along Route 1 from Ellsworth to Jonesport was damaged by the ice storm, leaving thousands of people in Hancock and Washington counties without electricity.
Then Saturday morning, crews flying over the major transmission line that links the utility to Washington County found that several miles of the vital linkage had fallen to the ground near Deblois. The 115,000-volt line serves an estimated 10,000 customers in Jonesport, Machias, Lubec and Eastport.
“It’s hard to believe it’s 8, almost 9 miles,” Cohen said Sunday. “I’ve seen video of it today. It’s just incredible to think about.”
Cohen said significant repairs had been made to the lower-voltage line running along Route 1, and that as of Sunday, crews were working to restore distribution lines to homes in the Hancock County towns of Ellsworth, Hancock, Sullivan, Lamoine, Otis, Surry and Brooklin.
Much of the work done in Washington County was aimed at bringing the Indeck plant in Jonesboro on line to provide power in the coming weeks, while repairs will continue to be made to the 115,000-volt transmission line, said Cohen.
Owned by a Texas-based company, the Jonesboro plant was sitting idle but now can be linked to the Route 1 line to provide at least a portion of the power that had been lost.
“We’re telling people to try to use only the essentials until the Indeck plant is back up, just enough to get their houses warm,” Cohen said.
Other progress made over the weekend included getting a diesel generator running in Eastport while another one is being repaired, Cohen said.
In Machias, one of the Washington County towns considered hardest hit by power outages, people are crossing mittened fingers that some sense of normalcy will return soon.
On Saturday afternoon, patrons huddled in the dimly sunlit rooms of Helen’s Restaurant, where power went out the previous night, leaving kitchen staff to rely on a generator.
Some were disappointed to learn the eatery was out of some key food and beverage items — such as chowder, coleslaw, Coke and decaffeinated coffee — having served hungry power company crews as well as other customers.
“It’d be a good day for soup or chowder. I’ve been working on my car getting the ice off,” said a woman whose pants and long skirt were covered by a furry coat.
Across town, building custodian Ed Lovell was working to set up the kitchen at Holy Name Parish Hall, which opened that evening as a community shelter.
One of two such facilities in town, the shelter initially was to have opened Friday. “We had just gotten the place warmed up, and pow, the power went out,” said Lovell. Equipped with a gas generator, the facility opened Saturday instead — a joint venture among the town of Machias, Washington County and the Holy Name Church.
About 25 people spent the night there Saturday, with many reportedly going home during the day Sunday due to the higher temperatures. “What we’re finding is a lot of people are coming back, because it’s cold and they’re getting scared again,” a local firefighter said Sunday afternoon.
Across town, service planner Stephen Stuart of Bangor Hydro’s Washington County division said he had fielded endless calls from people anxious to get their power back. “You know, I worry about my house just like anyone else,” he said.
Firefighter Daniel Chausse said Machias Fire Department members had spent the day checking on residents. “A lot of people want help. But Down East Maine people are real independent,” he said. “They don’t want help unless it’s absolutely necessary, but we’re offering it if they want it.”
The Rev. Larch Fidler of Holy Name Church spent most of his day Saturday visiting parishioners. “They’re coping,” he said. “We’ve supplied food and water where they need it, and one of the parishioners is going with a portable generator to get their heaters going. Basically, it’s a matter of keeping contact to give them reassurance.”
With power out in the church, Fidler decided to hold Mass in the rectory, which would be easier to heat. Warmed by the glow of a kerosene heater in a room lit only by an oil lamp and candles, the 15 parishioners listened as Fidler alluded at one point to bringing those who live in darkness up from the dungeon.
“We’ve all been through things like this before, and we will again. We will survive together,” Fidler said. “That is what abiding faith, hope and love are all about.”