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Maine Ice Storm Havoc: Thousands Without Power, CO Death in Knox
12/24/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

It could be a cold and dark Christmas for tens of thousands of Mainers who have been left without power following a weekend ice storm that weighed down power lines and tree limbs. At this time, Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro are reporting a total of 98,000 customers without electricity. It could be the weekend before some of them are back on line. Meanwhile, state police are reporting the first carbon monoxide death related to the storm. Susan Sharon has more.

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It happened early this morning in the town of Knox when 50-year-old Timothy Woods went out to his detached garage to refill a generator with gasoline. Steve McCausland is with the Maine Department of Public Safety.

"Because the garage had been enclosed for the entire night there was a huge buildup of carbon monoxide," McCausland says, "and troopers tell me in 15 minutes he most likely was overcome and died."

McCausland says family members found him just a short time later. Officials with the Maine Emergency Management Agency have been repeatedly urging residents to avoid these types of tragedies by following a few safety rules:

Place generators outside in the fresh air. Keep them dry and protected from snow and ice but don't put them in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces like cellars or garages. Only use kerosene heaters in well ventilated rooms where doors or windows can be kept open. And don't use charcoal grills or cooking stoves indoors. McCausland says failure to heed these warnings puts people at risk.

"We've had some unconfirmed reports of other carbon monoxide issues around the state that have not turned into fatalities," McCausland says. "So, this is going to become an issue, particularly if the power stays out for a longer period of time than we are anticipating. Residents need to be aware that carbon monoxide can kill - and it has already."

Power crews spent the night working on some of the areas hardest hit by the ice storm, including Kennebec, Knox, Waldo, Washington and Penobscot counties. But Susan Faloon of Bangor Hydro says not a lot of progress was made because the damage in her region is so extensive.

"In some areas we were seeing more than an inch of ice on the tree limbs. It's on the powerlines. It's snapping poles. It's just a real mess out there right now," Rice says.

Outages actually increased overnight because of dropping temperatures. That could be the case again tonight when temperatures dip close to zero and gusty winds create a dangerous wind chill. Faloon says it could be the end of the week before power is restored in some places.

Meantime, she's urging anyone without power and without a heat source to find another place to stay. "This storm is not as bad as the Ice Storm of '98, but it is probably the most severe storm we have had since the Ice Storm of '98," Rice says.

Back then, nearly nearly 300,000 Mainers lost electricity, and some were out for two weeks. This time around, Gail Rice of Central Maine Power says her company has set a goal of getting customers back on line by Thursday night.

"This is not a promise. It is simply a goal," she emphasizes. "Later on today we might have a better handle on how well we're progressing towards that."

Rice says CMP currently has 1,000 people working on service restoration, including line and tree crews. Charlene Williams of Manchester says she's grateful for all those men and women working during the holiday as she and her husband and neighbors prepare to spend Christmas in the dark. They've been without power since 10:30 Monday night.

"We do have a gas fireplace. We have a woodstove," she says. "We do have the generator that we turn on off and on - actually, I think we're in relatively good shape compared to a lot of other people."

Williams did have to advise family members from out-of-state not to come for Christmas. That was disappointing, she says, but she's hoping to celebrate another day this week.

Lex Serra of Hallowell, meanwhile, is taking her power outage in stride. She says she camped out with her dogs and cats by the fire last night, read by candlelight and periodically runs out to her car to charge her cell phone so she can talk to her friends and neighbors.

"We've all been communicating over Facebook," she says. "It's amazing how social media has helped everyone keep in touch. But you don't want to run down your phone too much, so you've got to be careful how much you use it."

Serra says come Christmas day if she and her friends don't have power they'll just have cold bean salad for dinner - but they will be together either way and they'll be staying warm.

For those who are without heat, MEMA has a list of warming centers that are open around the state, and a list of safety tips for operating generators.

Ed Morin contributed reporting to this story.


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