Storm delivers hurricane-force winds and damages to Downeast

Winds topped out at 93 mph in Trescott in a storm that left thousands of people without power.
Power lines down after storm in Washington County.
Power lines down after storm in Washington County.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published early Dec. 22 by the Quoddy Tides, and is republished here with permission. Some of the storm recovery details may have since changed.

In the aftermath of the hurricane force wind and rain storm on Monday, December 19, Governor Janet Mills declared a state of civil emergency for 14 Maine counties, including Washington County, with hundreds of thousands of people without power and significant flooding and infrastructure damage, including to the state’s federal‑aid highways.

Winds in Washington County reported by WABI TV, using data from the National Weather Service, had Trescott topping out the state at 93 mph. Eastport came in at 81 mph and Machias at 51 mph. Sustained winds of 74 to 95 mph are considered Category 1 on the hurricane wind scale.

Lubec resident and Quoddy Tides correspondent John Rule reports that a homeowner off Boot Cove Road clocked winds at 93 mph.

“Nobody can recall a storm like this” in recent memory, he relays of conversations he’s been having with area residents. “It was a heavy, heavy wind.”

Ed Mekelburg, The Quoddy Tides‘ weatherman in Robbinston, reported winds of 72 mph. Looking back through his records, he says that this is the highest in the area since the hurricane of September 1954.

Communities worked to provide warming centers for residents without heat and power. Eastport opened the Eastport Elementary School, Lubec opened the town office, and the American Legion opened its building. Other communities opened spaces as well.

Roofing shingles and siding, and even insulation bared to the elements with the loss of siding, were the source of much social media conversation, with accompanying photos showing the range of damage, from a few shingles missing to large swaths ripped away.

Rule notes that in Lubec “bits and pieces” of roofing shingles were all over, and that a piece of metal roofing from Lubec Landmarks’ historic smokehouse came off. He adds that the fleet of fishing boats was fine because the town’s mooring spot is sheltered from the south wind.

A portion of the Shead High School gym roof in Eastport, just a few years old, peeled off. Much as in Lubec, the city’s lawns and streets saw a wide variety of housing debris, from small bits of asphalt shingles to long strips of aluminum and vinyl siding.

Some town and city residents posted videos of the ocean slamming waves into cliffs, beaches, the breakwater and piers. The pier belonging to the WaCo Diner in Eastport suffered extensive damage, with photographer Don Dunbar capturing a portion of its surrender to the waves and current.

Tree damage was widespread around the county, with reports coming in of roads and streets blocked by not just one tree but often multiple trees. The warm temperatures, well above freezing, contributed to trees toppling over with roots pulling out of the earth.

Mekelburg notes that there was a lot of damage in the forests with downed trees, more than in the Ice Storm of 1998. “It will take decades to recover,” he believes. Rule lost a large old spruce on his Lubec property. “The tree people are going to be busy for a while,” he says.

Electricity was restored by Versant Power for many communities by the end of Tuesday, December 19. However, portions of communities that had additional utility infrastructure damage or were in more remote or isolated areas were still without as of Thursday, December 21.

Eastport, for example, had about 10% of Versant customers still without power; Lubec with 5.5%; Machiasport with 3.5%; Pembroke with 16%; Perry with 10%; Trescott with 23%; and Whiting with 10%.

Eastern Maine Electric Co‑operative reported on the morning of  Thursday, December 21, that there were 1,400 customers without power. “We have many broken poles with additional out of state crews arriving today [Tuesday] to assist,” the co-op reported. “Crews are focused on primary line repairs from the substations out.”

From Tuesday evening to Wednesday morning, EMEC crews had brought almost 1,000 customers back online. “Additional broken poles and downed wires have made restoration challenging. We currently have crews from Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine assisting with the recovery.”

Road and bridge closures and repairs

The Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) is working to assess and repair storm damage. As of December 19, there were nearly 100 state road closures in Maine because of downed trees and power lines, flooding and significant infrastructure damage.

Although all Maine counties have been impacted by the storm, Oxford, Franklin, Somerset and Kennebec counties were experiencing more than half of the road closures.

The DOT has closed almost three dozen bridges statewide due to high and fast‑running water. Most of the bridge closures represent precautionary measures, but a few are due to apparent structural damage. The DOT explains that inspections and damage assessments cannot be completed until the water recedes, which is expected by December 22.

In addition, many areas cannot be safely accessed by road crews until power lines have been secured. “The best way the public can help is to avoid unnecessary travel in areas known to be affected,” a DOT release states. “If you must travel, please allow yourself extra time, and never drive through standing water.

Finally, the DOT asks for patience and understanding as crews work to repair damaged infrastructure.” For updated information on road and bridge closures and repairs, the DOT recommends checking newengland511.org.

The governor’s state of emergency proclamation mobilizes all state resources to assist and support response and recovery efforts and positions the state to seek federal disaster support in the coming weeks. In the coming days, Maine Emergency Management Agency will work with county emergency management officials to assess infrastructure damage.

If that damage meets the financial statutory threshold exceeding the state’s ability to respond, Governor Mills will seek a federal disaster declaration. (Editor’s Note: Gov. Mills requested federal disaster relief late Friday afternoon, according to the Bangor Daily News.)

Meanwhile, the DOT will also work with the Federal Highway Administration to assess the damages on the state’s federal‑aid highways and seek federal financial assistance.

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Lora Whelan

Lora Whelan is the assistant editor and publisher of The Quoddy Tides newspaper, based in Eastport.
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