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Despite thousands of storm-related power outages, for many in Down East Maine it's business as usual

Tourists brave the storm in Bar Harbor, Maine, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.
Nick Woodward
/
Maine Public
Tourists brave the storm in Bar Harbor, Maine, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.

State officials say that western Maine appears to have avoided the worst damage from this weekend's storm. But they expect Eastern Maine to continue to get hammered by heavy rain, winds and surf.

Maine Emergency Management Agency Director Pete Rogers said on Saturday afternoon said that some eastern areas are expected to receive 5-6 inches of rain in total from the storm. He cautioned residents to continue to drive carefully and exercise caution, even as conditions improve.

"For beachgoers, storm surge is often the main cause of hurricane-related deaths. It is not safe to head to coastal areas due to this surf. Hurricanes are not just a coastal problem. As we're seeing with the power outages, flooding can occur inland without warning, even days after the storm has passed," he said.

Rogers said that the state hadn't yet heard reports of infrastructure damage, beyond downed power lines.

Lisa Hanscom, Washington County Emergency Management Director, said conditions could have been much worse, and she's heard no reports of storm-related injuries in the county. But the wind blew down many trees, and more than 40,000 customers are still without electricity from the storm. At the storm's peak, over 90,000 were without power.

"Yes we have thousands, we have Charlotte, Eastport, Vanceboro, Machiasport, some in Marshfield there's a few in Machias, and that's just a few of the towns, we've got quite a few towns out," she says.

With rain continuing Saturday evening, Hanscom is concerned about possible flooding.

Hanscom says towns in the county have worked well together to clear roads, and line crews are working to restore power.

Maine's utilities say they expect that power will be restored by early next week.

Versant Power Spokesperson Judy Long said on Saturday afternoon that high wind speeds made it impossible for crews to get up in bucket trucks for part of the day. But she says the utility has begun making progress and expects full restoration within 72 hours.

"And that, of course, depends on winds, at these speeds. But we do have more than 100 crews working, as well as all the support staff," she says.

Long says the brunt of the storm's damage has occurred in Hancock and Washington counties.

Central Maine Power says it expects power will be restored by Monday.

Prospect Harbor Light as seen on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.
Nick Woodward
/
Maine Public
Prospect Harbor Light as seen on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.

While many businesses and restaurants closed ahead of the weekend storm, Pamela Francis was serving a few regulars at the Old Sow Grill, her bar and restaurant in Eastport.

Although Eastport lost power early in the day, Francis has a generator because she says power outages are not unusual. Francis says she feels the storm had been overhyped.

"It doesn't ever seem to match the forecast. It seems to never be right. And I really wasn't worried. I thought about it a lot, but wasn't worried, because we just don't get that kind of weather here. We get a lot of wind, we're used to that. And I was just hoping that it wouldn't be as bad as reported," she says.

The Bluebird Ranch Family Restaurant in Machias was also open all weekend, serving local residents and utility crews.

Staff member Matt Longfellow says the restaurant is known for staying open in severe weather. It was much busier than a typical Saturday, as residents without power braved the rain. On top of that, the staff was working to prepare 400 box lunches for utility crews to pick up Sunday.

"We wanted to stay open, it's not really anything new for us. We've been staying open during ice storms and natural disasters for years," he says.

After more than 25 years, the Bluebird will close Oct. 1, after it was purchased by Mason's Brewing Co. earlier this month.

Machias cosmetologist Michele Farnsworth was also unbothered by the storm. She says she came in to work at Bella Vista Salon around 7:30 a.m. Saturday, and while the lights flickered, the salon did not lose power.

"Just another day in Down East Maine," she says. "No different than a snowstorm, it's just rain."

Farnsworth says she only had two people cancel appointments on Saturday. Her husband texted her to say a road on her way home was blocked off, but says she knows of other roads home and was in no rush.

After returning to Maine from New York Friday, Sally Humphreys was happy to spend her time on what she called a "hurricane hair day" at Bella Vista Salon. Humphreys says she's getting ready for a bachelorette party on Saturday for a friend, which will go on rain or shine.

"We'll sing karaoke, play games and make it happen," she says.

The original plans for the party were to go to a live music show, but now they will gather at the bride's house with a generator, food and good company, Humphreys says.

Murray Carpenter is Maine Public’s climate reporter, covering climate change and other environmental news.
Kaitlyn Budion is Maine Public’s Bangor correspondent, joining the reporting team after several years working in print journalism.