Waterville deals with late October storm’s aftermath

When strong winds and driving rain caused widespread power outages and  damage throughout Maine on Sunday night, the Waterville and Colby community united to cope with the damages left in the storm’s wake.

Waterville Public Works Director Mark Turner helped coordinate the town’s response to the storm in conjunction with power companies, police, and fire departments.

“I thought it was very well handled and coordinated between the public safety departments and our department,” Turner said in an interview with the Echo. “I am very grateful that the folks in Waterville and our immediate area made it through everything okay.”

The storm, which was the result of a cold front generated by tropical storm Philippe, reached its peak intensity in Waterville on Sunday night with heavy rain and wind gusts up to 39 mph, though its winds were even more powerful in other parts of Maine. There were few trees completely uprooted, but multiple downed branches furthered hazardous road conditions and flooding.

“I think the storm caught everyone by surprise, and I don’t think people anticipated the widespread damage that it was going to cause,” Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey said in an interview with the Echo. “It was nice weather when the storm was predicted and I think that helped give the impression that it probably would not be severe…but obviously it has had an impact across the state.”

In the aftermath of the storm, Waterville Police coordinated with other local police departments and stationed officers around the City to protect residents from live downed electrical wires, respond to alarms, and assist in rescue operations for citizens requiring power for medical devices. Since temperatures were seasonably warm, their efforts were unrestricted by the treacherous ice and snow characteristic of winter storms.

“There are a lot of things for us to look at and prepare for,” Massey explained. “It always comes down to if we have the resources necessary, and if we don’t, how do we prioritize our resources to minimize jeopardizing anyone’s health or safety during the storm?”

While damages were widespread across the state, the historic nature of the storm lies in the extensive power outages it caused. Approximately 62 percent of Central Maine Power (CMP) and Emera Maine customers were without power by late Monday afternoon, accounting for outages in nearly 500,000 homes and businesses statewide.

“No storm in our history has left us with this many outages, not even the ice storm of 1998,” CMP President and CEO Sarah Burns stated in a press release. “The good news is while it took three weeks to restore service following the ice storm, recovery from this one will be much, much quicker.”

In order to allow crews to work later hours and restore power more quickly, Governor Paul LePage issued a state of emergency in Maine.

The energy company’s restoration efforts began on Monday with restoring power to hospitals, and they worked throughout the week with the goal was of restoring power to most locations by Saturday night. Maine crews were assisted by utility companies and contractors from the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec, and from 14 states as far away as Florida.

“We want to thank our many partners in this effort — including the Maine Emergency Management Agency, local EMAs, and countless other state and local agencies,” Burns said. “The crews and support personnel engaged in this recovery effort…have also done an outstanding job.”

Local schools were also impacted by the storm, and while Waterville and Winslow Public Schools reopened on Tuesday, the Vassalboro Community School remained closed until Friday due to power outages. The Kennebec Valley Community College in nearby Fairfield did not lose power, but many classes were cancelled on Monday due to poor road conditions.

While Colby’s on-campus buildings did not lose power throughout the storm, the campus sustained damage due to fallen trees and tree limbs. Most tree damage occurred in wooded areas, with the exception of a large spruce tree near Bixler which broke one window pane and three storm windows when it fell into Roberts.

“The wind pattern of the storm was severe and unusual and not what is usually encountered on the campus,” Gus Libby, Director of Operations and Maintenance at Colby, said in an interview with the Echo. “Cleanup efforts have been swift and effective.”

With the exception of some professors cancelling Monday classes, buildings remained open and the College continued to run smoothly throughout the week.

Overall, Colby experienced significantly lower damages than other Maine colleges, including Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME, which lost over 60 trees on campus and suffered power outages in campus buildings. University of Maine in Orono, Maine evacuated 1,500 students Monday due to power outages in the residence halls.

While Colby students living on campus were fortunate to have access to wifi and hot meals this week, those living off-campus were greatly impacted by the power outages in surrounding areas. As a result, Colby offered free meals throughout the week to off-campus students, along with faculty and staff and their families. The athletic department showers were also open for use by college employees.

Julie Nardi, a Dining Services employee, observed the impact of the storm from her station in Foss Dining Hall.

“Faculty, staff, everyone was pooling in and helping each other out which was so beautiful,” Nardi said in an interview with the Echo. “The city of Waterville, Colby, everybody is just phenomenal and it is always amazing to see what people will offer to do.”

Massey also observed the community’s willingness to help others throughout the cleanup efforts.

“My experience in Waterville is that when we do have a natural disaster, I think you see the best in people come out and it really shows that when there is a need because of a disaster people do stuff for it,” observed Massey. “From individual people, to the businesses, the schools, and the colleges, there’s a real community out there to help those who have been affected during one of these storms.”