State of Emergency Declared; Hundreds of Thousands Powerless

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By Staff and Wire Reports

Hampton Union, Friday, December 12, 2008

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Portsmouth Public Works and Police departments shut down a section of Miller Avenue Friday morning after where trees dropped due to Thursday night's ice storm.
[Deb Cram photo]

Hundreds of thousands of people in Maine and New Hampshire are without power as an ice and rain storm snapped trees and branches, littering the road and taking down power lines in the process.

Electric companies are working to get power restored today, but warned it could take up to several days in some areas. Early reports indicate that the total number of outages from this storm is unprecedented, having already surpassed the ice storm in January 1998, which left 55,000 customers without power at its peak. New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch declared a state of emergency Friday morning and urged residents not to travel.

By all accounts, Southern New Hampshire and York County were hit hardest by the storm, which is expected to subside by mid-afternoon Friday at which time road conditions should improve. All Seacoast area schools were closed Friday.

"This is pretty bad," said Gale Rice, spokesperson for Central Maine Power. The number of outages could continue climbing throughout the morning as additional icing and wind gusts occur. Public Service of New Hampshire is estimating between 200,000 and 500,000 customers are without power. PSNH has dispatched 190 line and tree-trimming crews and called in help from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Quebec, Canada to help deal with the outages.

Central Maine Power spokesperson Gail Rice said about 200,000 customers statewide are without power as of 11 a.m., including 66,400 in the York County area. Rice said she could not pinpoint outages in specific towns. Rice said crews are still "de-energizing" downed lines, a situation compounded by the fact that there is ice-covered debris tangled with the lines. She said she anticipates that stage is going to take most of today, and it will be late today or even tomorrow before CMP crews are able to assess and restore power. "This is going to be a couple of days," before full power is restored, she said.

Even after that, power will be restored first to "critical" structures such as hospitals and public safety facilities. Working in CMP’s favor, she said, is the fact that the storm is supposed to end today. In addition, there has not been a lot of wind, which "has been helpful." Still, she called this event the "worst since the ice storm of 1998" when most of the state was without power for up to two weeks. She said the crews are working "24/7" to restore power, with 400 workers in the field. In addition, 57,728 Unitil and 41,000 New Hampshire Electric Cooperative customers have no power.

With the benefit of daylight, PSNH crews anticipated getting a better assessment of damage to its system. Customers are asked to prepare for what could be a multi-day power restoration effort, given the amount of tree and branch debris that must be cleared before power can be restored. Customers should be extremely cautious around down power lines, and always assume that the lines are energized. Fire departments all over both states are responding to reports of transformer explosions, wires and utility poles down, trees burning on wires or trees falling on homes.

At the Maine Emergency Operations Center, spokesman Jim Van Dongen says many secondary roads are closed because they are littered with downed trees. The city of Portsmouth is setting up a temporary emergency shelter at the high school on Andrew Jarvis Drive. Gov. Lynch was at Emergency Operations in Concord this morning and urged residents to be cautious and avoid travel when possible. "With rain expected to continue and temperatures expected to drop as the day progresses it is important that the state has all its resources available to manage this situation. I urge all New Hampshire citizens to take sensible precautions and heed all warnings from public officials," said Lynch.

New Hampshire Emergency management officials urge citizens to: * Avoid unnecessary travel * Watch for downed trees and power lines * Avoid downed power lines * Plan for prolonged power outages * Contact local public safety officials if you are in need of sheltering assistance; The state Emergency Operations Center is working with the Red Cross and local communities to ensure shelters are available where necessary. Anyone in need of emergency assistance should call 9-1-1. The Department of Health and Human Services in Portsmouth are closed Friday because of the power outage. If you are in need of immediate assistance please contact the District Office closest to you or 1-800-852-3345, for TDD access call 1-800-735-2964.

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