Utility crews wearing snowshoes and riding snowmobiles trudged through chest-high snow Tuesday as they worked to restore electricity to tens of thousands of customers still in the dark a day after a wind-whipped storm barreled through Maine.
Nearly 45,000 homes and businesses were still without power Tuesday afternoon, down from the 140,000 customers without electricity at the peak of Monday's storm that snapped tree limbs, power lines and utility poles and dropped 2 feet of snow on the region.
Central Maine Power Co. expected to reduce the number of outages to 30,000 by Tuesday night. Electricity is not expected to be totally restored until Thursday night, said CMP spokesman John Carroll.
Bangor Hydro Electric Co. said some homes in outlying areas could be without electricity into Wednesday.
The utilities blamed poor road conditions and the rural locations of many outages for slowing efforts to restore power.
CMP equipped many of the workers with snowshoes and snowmobiles to help them tramp through deep snow to reach lines in need of repair, Carroll said. At one point, the utility ran out of snowshoes.
"We've had so many people struggling with the snow, we started calling L.L. Bean and Cabela's and Sam's Club to see who had them," Carroll said.
Fifteen shelters were set up around the state Monday night, but only a small number of people spent the night there.
"That's typical," said Lynette Miller of the Maine Emergency Management Agency. "We need to have the shelters available, but people tend to tough it out or go to family or friends."
Gov. John Baldacci declared a state of emergency Monday to extend the hours that power crews can work to restore electricity. On Tuesday morning, he joined CMP President Sara Burns in touring neighborhoods in Brunswick and Bath that remained without power.
Baldacci, who met with several crews who came up from Massachusetts and Connecticut, urged Maine residents once again to use caution in dealing with downed lines and portable generators.
"Be patient. Look out for your neighbors, your family and yourself," he said.
Vermont, N.H. also hit
In Vermont, driving snow covered roads and forced the closure of northbound Interstate 89 between Waterbury and Richmond for two hours Monday because of accidents, the Vermont State Police said.
"We're having a hell of a time right now," said Larry Dodge, a Vermont Transportation Agency dispatcher.
Several thousand customers in eastern New Hampshire also lost power, but most had their lights back on by afternoon.
Hundreds of schools canceled in Maine classes for the day on what was supposed to be the first day back after a weeklong vacation. The storm caused some school closings in Vermont and New Hampshire, but many were already closed for vacation.
The deepest snowfall was in the northern Maine town of Milo, which received 28 inches, according to the weather service. Other impressive amounts included 26 inches in Farmington and 25 inches in Bridgton, both in Maine. New Durham, N.H., reported 17 inches.
In Milo, Tom Haley said the pile of plowed and shoveled snow outside Bailey Lumber Co. grew to 30 feet tall. Most people took the storm in stride, he said.
"It took just as long to shovel it out as the last time — and we're still waiting for spring," Haley said during a break from work. "We've had enough."
Christmas tree farm buried
About 15 miles away, the snow piled up so fast that some of the 100,000 Christmas trees grown at the Finest Kind farm disappeared from view.
"The little ones are just barely peeking up through the drifts," owner Jim LaCasce said of the 3- to 4-foot trees.
Ski areas were mostly thrilled with the latest storm. But the storm wasn't all good news at the Sugarbush ski area in Warren, Vt., which has received 56 inches of snow since Thursday. High winds forced it to close its lifts. But the forecast for the rest of the week is ideal, said spokesman JJ Toland.
"We're crying into our Gore-Tex today," Toland said Monday. "We'll be smiling ear to ear tomorrow."