Sandy shuts down Maine port, thousands lose power
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Even the fringe of the megastorm known as Sandy, hundreds of miles from the center, was powerful enough to whip up gusts topping 60 mph on Monday, shutting down the port of Portland, scaring away several cruise ships and knocking out electricity for tens of thousands of homes and businesses.
Gov. Paul LePage signed an emergency declaration and the port took the unusual step of closing because of strong winds. The biggest concern was the strong gusts lashing the coast, hitting 63 mph in Portland and 76 mph in Bath, said Maine Emergency Management Agency Director Robert McAleer.
Those who make their living on the water didn’t know what to make of Sandy, no longer a hurricane but a wintry hybrid known as a post-tropical storm, causing wind action that’s unfamiliar to Maine fishermen, said Pat White, a lobster fisherman from York.
‘‘We’re in uncharted territory,’’ said White, noting that the wind on the storm’s backside would be opposite of what fishermen are accustomed to seeing. ‘‘It’s going to be like a washing machine out there.’’
There were no mandatory evacuations in Maine. But the town of Wells urged people to leave their homes and businesses along coastal and low-lying areas east of U.S. 1.
One shelter was set up in Buxton, and shelters were on standby in Thomaston and Topsham, officials said.
As of 9 p.m., more than 80,000 homes and businesses, mostly in southern Maine, were in the dark because of the storm.
At high tide Monday afternoon, the surf crashed over the rocky shore, showering a seaside road with rocks and dousing the occasional bystander with seawater in Kennebunk. A couple hundred yards away, a dozen thrill-seeking surfers took advantage of the high surf to get in some late-season rides.
In York, Route 1A was closed briefly.
Canadian utility crews were on loan in Maine and ready to assist with power restoration efforts. Maine National Guard troops were on six-hour standby in the event they are needed.
Even before the historic storm hit, several cruise ships canceled planned stops Monday and Tuesday in Portland and Bar Harbor, and several cargo ships and tankers destined for Portland chose to stay in anchorage far offshore, said Lt. Nick Barrow, spokesman for the Coast Guard.
The skippers of two large fishing boats 50 miles offshore chose to ride out the storm, and the Coast Guard was in contact with them, Barrow said.
On land, most of the flights were canceled at the Portland International Jetport on Monday, and Amtrak’s Downeaster canceled several runs Monday night and Tuesday morning between Portland and Boston.
While the wind was a major problem in southern Maine, the rainfall wasn’t expected to be especially heavy, with only 1 to 3 inches, officials said.
‘‘My biggest concern at this point is the extent of the power outages. We don’t expect mainstream flooding with those kinds of rain totals,’’ McAleer said.
Maine has had plenty of time to prepare and lobster fishermen have been either pulling their traps from the water or moving their traps farther offshore ahead of the storm.
Most fishermen do what they can to protect their investment, while some will leave their traps in waters where they may be lost or battered, said Greg Turner of Scarborough, who moved his traps to waters 150 to 180 feet deep. At $80 to $100 per trap, losing traps in a storm can be an expensive venture.
‘‘Some people may have a different outlook than I do and take a chance,’’ he said. ‘‘They may get away with it and they may not. You won’t know until after the storm.’’
Associated Press Writer Clarke Canfield contributed to this report.