Chainsaws were in high demand in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Arthur with the sound of whining blades starting up the day of the storm and continuing through the week. High winds and torrential rains arrived on Saturday, July 5, and were replaced by blue skies and sun by the next day, but not before sending many a venerable tree, utility pole and wires crashing down Downeast and in the Maritimes. Utility company crews were out clearing electric lines, with power outages in Washington County still being felt mid‑week by customers of Emera Maine, Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative and New Brunswick Power, with the Canadian company finding the storm's impact on its power grid the worst in the utility's history.
Some parts of Washington County's coastal areas received over six inches of rain, with the National Weather Service office in Caribou noting 6.48 inches as the high near Trescott, with most coastal areas receiving a little over five inches. Inland ranged from 3.5 inches to about two inches closer to the western border of the county. While some storm observers thought there might have been micro‑bursts, the National Weather Service could not confirm that they occurred, although the office did note that the wind changed direction frequently. Wind speeds reached about 68 mph or 110 km/h in New Brunswick and about 75 mph in Maine. New Brunswick rainfall topped at 6.7 inches or 170 mm.
NB Power reports that the storm's high winds and heavy rain caused power interruptions for approximately 200,000 customers throughout the weekend, with a peak of 140,000 customers offline simultaneously on Saturday night. At first light Monday, 219 crews hit the ground working to restore power to customers, with 15 more scheduled to arrive throughout the day. Hydro Quebec, Central Maine Power and Edmundston Energy sent line and tree trimming crews to assist with restoration progress.
Emera Communications Supervisor Susan Faloon says, "Our estimates show that at least 90% of Emera Maine's customers in Washington County were affected by a power outage due to Tropical Storm Arthur. That amounts to about 16,500 customers. Washington County was the hardest hit county within our service territory. We had about 35,000 customers affected in all. All of the counties we serve were hit harder than we expected based on weather forecasts. Today [Tuesday], crews are still finding extensive damage such as broken trees that have literally ripped power lines off the poles." She expected that by midnight almost all customers would have their power restored.
Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative's (EMEC) 3,000‑square‑mile delivery territory had approximately 5,000 homes and other buildings affected at the peak of the rolling outages. At one point or another, there were outages in all of the 78 municipal areas served by EMEC. To support its own linemen, EMEC drew on mutual aid agreements and contractors, hiring three additional line crews, a pole‑setting crew and five tree‑cutting crews. "This storm was unusual in that it caused heavy damage at so many sites across our entire delivery territory," says EMEC Manager of Communications Charlie McAlpin. "That's a lot of ground to cover for our own 14 linemen and five bucket trucks." By Tuesday, only about 50 customers in remote locations were still without power, reports McAlpin. The majority of NB Power customers were expected to have power restored by Wednesday at midnight, with the remainder expected to be back online by the weekend of July 11.
Quoddy neighbors and friends to the rescue
Reports of volunteer efforts were coming in from Quoddy area towns and communities as neighbors got out chainsaws, drove over with their pick‑up trucks and trailers and helped remove trees. Emera Maine had 132 field employees and contractors working in Washington County on Tuesday and a total of about 175‑180 field workers and 50 office personnel working throughout the storm, with most in Washington County and more sent that way as they were freed up in their divisions, says Faloon.
Alongside the utility companies were municipal public works crews, who had their work cut out for them. The City of Eastport public works and wastewater treatment plant departments worked with volunteers from Federal Marine Terminals, the fire department, the Eastport Port Authority, sailors from the visiting U.S. Navy ship and numerous individuals who came out to help clear trees from the city's major thoroughfares.
One Eastporter arrived home from vacation in the wee hours of Sunday morning to find the different routes to her home blocked at every turn by downed tree limbs and the city eerily dark. Helen Brooks of Robbinston noted that instead of raking leaves in the fall, everyone was raking leaves in July. A Cooper resident had to call her husband home from Massachusetts to help with a flooding basement. A family on vacation for Moose Island's homecoming week thought it a blast, with a huge spaghetti supper cooked on a Coleman stove and everyone gathered around the kerosene lantern.
Not all fared as well, with vehicle damage and house fires being at the high end of the damage list. In Eastport Skip Harris of Fundy Breeze Charters helped Seaview Campground owner Basil Pottle secure two boats that had broken their lines and washed ashore because of the high winds. "Basil and I floated them back to the dock. The boats were fine," he says. Another pleasure craft did not do as well, with enough damage caused from smacking against the dock to have it take on water as the owner attempted to take it over to the Eastport breakwater. The U.S. Coast Guard came to the rescue and towed the boat into the inner basin.
Eastport City Manager Larry Post says of the city's staff and volunteers, "Everyone pulled their weight and then some. They did a marvelous job with the cleanup. They kept people safe. I'm very pleased with the work that was done." Public works crew member Brian Baron says that he and wastewater treatment plant Superintendent Jeff Sullivan and assistant plant operator and public works crew member Howard Johnson were working with "basically anyone who knew how to use tools" on Saturday to clear out the trees. Baron notes that the three men worked non‑stop for three days with generators to keep the wastewater treatment plant pump stations working around the city. By Tuesday morning they were almost done with the tree cleanup, with the catch basins full of leaves on their next‑up list.
Weakened trees from the ice storm last December probably contributed to the damage, according to Mike Heath, a forester at the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Washington County. "We measured three‑quarters of an inch of ice here at the Moosehorn [in Calais] last December. That weight would have caused small fractures in the limbs and trunks of trees: even in many trees that appeared untouched. Those cracks wouldn't have been visible except on close examination, but they made the trees more susceptible to later storms. That's why we saw trees and limbs breaking where we might otherwise have expected them to bend."
New Brunswick power grid hit hard
New Brunswick residents bore the brunt of the tropical storm's trail, with record high winds and heavy rainfall causing more damage to New Brunswick's power grid than any other storm in the utility's history. The provincial government notes that widespread tree damage and some areas of heavy flooding have caused significant electricity outages and road washouts.
St. Andrews, known for its stately trees lining the streets, suffered severe losses, says Town Clerk and Administrator Jamie Carr. "The biggest thing was the trees. We lost hundreds of trees; they were big and old. It's sad to see them cut up and carted off." Power lines came down and some homes were damaged from falling branches, but no fires developed from electric lines sparking as they came down. Carr was grateful to report that Kingsbrae Garden did not lose too many of its trees, many of which create the backbone to the 27 acres of horticultural treasures.
The town was able to find diesel fuel for generators to power the wastewater treatment and water plants, which helped to lessen the burden of homeowners struggling without power. The town's marina was "hit pretty hard," Carr says. "Quite a few boats ended up on the beach at Navy Island and the town‑side beach." While some boat owners were able to find more sheltered spots, many of those whose boats were at the marina sustained damage. The wharf and docks "didn't suffer too badly."
An added complication for St. Andrews was the scheduled international triathlon for that weekend. Carr explains that there were about 400 entrants for the Saturday and Sunday event. All of Saturday's events were moved to Sunday, making, for the athletes, a crazy day of dodging downed branches, truck crews and other road blocks. "That was quite interesting," says Carr wryly. In addition a cruise ship arrived on Sunday, as scheduled, and perhaps allowed the visiting tourists to enjoy an example of a community working together to get things back to normal.
"As we cope with the widespread impacts of post‑Tropical Storm Arthur, we want to thank customers for their continued patience and acknowledge the community spirit New Brunswickers are showing through these difficult days," says Gaetan Thomas, CEO and president of NB Power. "We are determined to work through these challenges to bring our customers back online as quickly and safely as we can."
Arthur has caused significant damage to NB Power's transmission system and distribution systems, which includes the high‑voltage lines that carry electricity between communities and the secondary lines that supply homes and businesses.