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Strong Gusts Topple Crane Into Three Houses in Portland Neighborhood

Fri November 10, 2006 - Northeast Edition
Jerry Harkavy



PORTLAND, Maine (AP) Maine officials were assessing damages Oct. 30 in the aftermath of a wild, weekend storm that brought gusty winds that toppled a 165-ft. crane in one of Portland’s most populous neighborhoods and triggering additional power outages around the state.

Mainers continued to assess damages as winds subsided and utility crews arrived from Canada to help Bangor Hydro Electric crews restore power.

The storm uprooted trees, blew roofs off buildings and caused some scary moments with flying branches and downed utility poles.

The crane was blown into three houses near the construction site at Maine Medical Center, with the wrecking ball narrowly missing a car that was headed to the hospital’s emergency room.

“The first thing I saw was the ball coming down really fast about 10 feet from us. It hit the roadway, and the rest of the crane just fell on the buildings in front of us,” said Colleen Mowatt of Gorham, whose boyfriend jammed on the brakes in the nick of time.

No one was injured when the crane struck the three multi-unit houses, one of which was vacant. Fire officials evacuated the five people who were in the two occupied buildings at the time of the crash.

Police blocked off several streets and Maine Medical Center rerouted traffic to the emergency room. Hospital Spokesman Wayne Clark said the evacuees from the damaged buildings were being put up in a hotel.

The idle crane was at the site to put up structural steel for a new building at the hospital complex. Investigators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) planned to visit the scene to review the accident.

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses had electricity knocked out as Maine’s two largest utilities scrambled to repair downed power lines while new outages were being reported because of the persistent winds.

Central Maine Power said approximately 16,165 customers were in the dark as of 7 a.m. Oct. 30, down from a peak of 36,000 the night of Oct. 28, with the heaviest damage reported in the Brunswick district.

“This storm did tremendous damage in coastal areas from Freeport to Bucksport,” said CMP Spokeswoman Gail Rice. “Access to these areas has been difficult, and there are at least 55 broken poles, making for slow going in some areas.”

Approximately 7,202 customers served by Bangor Hydro Electric Co. also were without power the morning of Oct. 30, down from a high of 28,000, with Hancock County taking the biggest hit.

Strong gusts broke several poles along the Trenton Causeway, cutting service on and access to Mount Desert Island for several hours the afternoon of Oct. 29.

Utility crews from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia arrived in Maine the night of Oct. 29 to help Bangor Hydro crew restore power, said Bangor Hydro Spokeswoman Jen Brooker.

Gov. John Baldacci proclaimed a state of emergency Oct. 28, a move intended to pave the way for a federal waiver allowing electrical workers to stay on the job to restore power and to bring additional crews from Canada.

Heavy rains accompanied the high winds Oct. 28, with much of Maine getting more than 3 in., with the Piscataquis County town of Blanchard getting 3.95 in. The highest winds were a 70 mph gust recorded the afternoon of Oct. 28 in Cape Elizabeth at the height of the rainstorm, while a 79 mph gust was reported a couple of hours later in Sedgwick in Hancock County.

The heavy rain slowed traffic but there were few flood-related problems.