By Patrick Whittle, Lisa Rathke and Michael Casey
Megan Michaud and her family of five lost power for three days after a powerful storm throttled her home state of Maine, and a new challenge is creeping up on her: It's almost time for Christmas.
“This morning, my second grader told me, ‘It’s five days until Christmas' and I told myself that can't be right,” said Michaud, 42, of Kennebunkport. “But it turns out the calendar keeps moving even when you're in the middle of something.”
Michaud has had to toss all of the family's food. She has not wrapped a single gift and hasn't been able to start prepping Christmas dinner because of the chaos the storm has unleashed in Maine. She spent three days heating her home with a gas fireplace, shuffling back and forth from her parents' house and waiting patiently for power before it was finally restored Wednesday afternoon.
It's a scene playing out all over northern New England, where the havoc wrought by an unexpectedly strong storm has made the festive season anything but.
The heavy pre-Christmas storm that hit Monday has brought dangerous flooding and widespread power outages to Maine. The aftermath of the storm has left hundreds of thousands in the dark, closed ski resorts, washed out roads, closed bridges and caused families to throw away spoiled holiday food.
It’s unclear when everyone will have power back, but officials and utilities in the state have said some will have to wait until the holiday.
In South Berwick, Jessica Hyland was relieved when her power finally snapped back on Wednesday morning. But she still had not been able to buy a Christmas tree and was far behind on holiday chores.
“I was on my way to mild to moderate hysteria,” she said.
People across the northeastern U.S. were still mopping up Wednesday after the storm dumped torrential rains and brought damaging winds from Pennsylvania to Maine, as some rivers in the region rose even higher. Some of the worst damage was in Vermont and Maine. Others, such as Ellen Briggs of Portland, were tending to the thousands of downed trees that fell in the storm.
“Now there's a lot of debris to clean up,” said Briggs, who had a 60-foot (18-meter) white pine collapse in her yard.
At least seven people in East Coast states were killed in the storms with deaths reported in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Maine.
On Wednesday morning, a 61-year-old woman was found dead inside a truck that had been swept away Monday night and overturned while trying to cross the flooded Swift River in Mexico, Maine. A 20-year-old woman remained missing, authorities said.
Also Wednesday morning, nine people, including a 2-year-old child, were rescued along the swollen Crooked River in the Naples and Casco area.
Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills said water levels were expected to drop in the coming days but they remained dangerously high and posed a serious risk in many parts of the state. The Kennebec River, which runs through Augusta, and the Sandy, Swift, Carrabassett and Androscoggin rivers were all seeing higher water levels than typical, leading to damage and closures, the Maine Department of Transportation said.
Mills urged people in heavily impacted areas to avoid travel Wednesday. It was a tough blow just before the holiday, Mills said.
“It can't be ignored that this storm arrives just a few days before Christmas, a time of joy," Mills said. “For many in Maine that may no longer be the case. People dealing with the loss of their homes and damage to property.”
The storm hit many states, and more than 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain fell in parts of New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania. Portions of several other states got more than 4 inches (10 centimeters), according to the National Weather Service. Utility crews worked to restore power to customers after the powerful storm. Wind gusts reached nearly 70 mph (113 kph) along the New England shoreline.
Mills declared a civil state of emergency for most of Maine, noting the storm had “caused significant flooding and infrastructure damage, including to the state’s federal-aid highways.”
It is the kind of weather event that is becoming ”the new norm" in Maine in the era of climate change and more severe storms, said Pete Rogers, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
“I think we're going to see multihazard events,” Rogers said. “They come out very fast, they come out very strong. Coastal flooding, beach erosion.”
Several ski resorts in Maine that were forced to close due to flooding announced they were cleaning up and planning to reopen in the coming days.
Officials at Sugarloaf Mountain said they were cleaning up Wednesday and planned to open Thursday. At Sunday River ski resort in western Maine, officials said they planned to reopen Saturday. A third resort, Saddleback in Rangeley, Maine, was also forced to close and planned to reopen Friday, though its slopes will reopen Saturday.
Most of the resorts were still assessing the damage. But it was clear they were hit hard. A road leading to Sunday River Grand Summit Hotel and Conference Center washed out Monday afternoon after a brook running alongside the resort burst its banks. The Gould Academy competition center there also was filled with several feet of mud and ice.
Dirk Gouwens, executive director of Ski Maine, a nonprofit that represents ski interests in the state, said all of the 19 ski areas in the state closed or chose not to open due to the floods. The reason was not due to damage to the resorts but because access on roads to many ski areas was hampered.
“Most of the damage was done to the road infrastructure around the state, mostly due to culverts washing out, rivers overflowing their banks,” Gouwens said. “The main issue is access and getting around the state. There are still tons of roads that are closed.”
Some towns in Vermont, which had suffered major flooding from a storm in July, were seeing more flood damage. Five months after flooding inundated Vermont’s capital, water entered the basements of some downtown Montpelier businesses as the city monitored the level of the Winooski River.
“Seeing homes and businesses surrounded by water once again has been heartbreaking,” Vermont Gov. Phil Scott told reporters Tuesday. “I can’t imagine the toll that has on anyone.”
Rathke reported from Marshfield, Vermont, and Casey reported from Boston.