Storm Recovery Continues Along East Coast, But Thousands Still Blacked Out

Wednesday, April 18th 2007, 10:46 pm

By: News On 6

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ Utility crews cut their way through toppled trees Wednesday to restore service to thousands of customers still without power since a huge weekend storm battered the East Coast.

Communities from New Jersey to Maine were still coping with stream flooding after the storm dumped more than 8 inches of rain in places, along with coastal flooding brought on by astronomical high tides and heavy surf.

Eighteen deaths were blamed on the weather system, including a woman whose body was pulled from a New Jersey river on Wednesday.

New Hampshire safety officials made plans Wednesday to breach the 19th-century Hayden Mill Pond dam at Hollis to relieve the pressure of high water from the storm and avert a failure. A dozen families living near the six-acre reservoir were evacuated Tuesday evening and National Guard troops closed part of a highway as a precaution.

More than 50,000 businesses and homes remained without power in Maine, where Central Maine Power Co. was being helped by repair crews from neighboring New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and as far away as Pennsylvania.

Utility officials warned that some people might be without power until the end of the week.

``It's a huge number of trees that are down, so it's a big job cutting those away,'' said CMP spokesman John Carroll. ``Plus there are 250 broken poles. That's an enormous number of poles.''

Utilities in New Hampshire reported nearly 17,000 homes and businesses still had no electricity, down from roughly 90,000 at the peak, and said some might not be reconnected until the weekend.

In many areas, road damage and fallen trees blocked repair crews' access, said New Hampshire Electric Cooperative spokesman Seth Wheeler.

``There are 18 different tree crews we've hired ... just clearing trees first before the line crews can get in there and do construction,'' Wheeler said.

About 1,400 New Jersey residents were in emergency shelters because of flooding, up slightly from Tuesday, as more rivers crested. Rescue crews went house to house by boat in a flooded section of Fairfield asking if residents of about three dozen homes needed to be evacuated, said State Police Sgt. Stephen Jones.

``The numbers are fluctuating, actually going down in some places as folks go home, but rising in others as people who had been holding out just give in and go to a shelter,'' Jones said.

Sections of some New Jersey highways were still closed by standing water.

About 40 New Hampshire roads remained closed by high water or damage, Gov. John Lynch said. Most were expected to be reopened soon, but it could take weeks to repair landslide damage to Route 101 in Wilton, Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Boynton said.

Lynch had asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to start a preliminary damage assessment in all 10 counties to determine eligibility for federal disaster relief. ``Many New Hampshire communities have been overwhelmed by all the flooding,'' he said, noting that about 6,000 residents still could not return home.

Swollen rivers in Massachusetts were receding but waves still crashed over sea walls and flooded coastal roads early, authorities said.

Two families were evacuated from oceanfront homes in Duxbury, Mass., late Tuesday but were able to return the next morning, fire Capt. Skip Chandler said. Their homes had knee-deep water on the ground floor, he said. ``Thank goodness it wasn't worse,'' he said.

Most roads had reopened in the suburbs north of New York City, as homeowners in Westchester County piled water-ruined carpets and furniture in heaps outside.

On Fire Island, a barrier island along the south side of New York's Long Island, some homes were clinging to narrow beaches atop rickety pilings because the storm's waves had scoured the sand out from beneath them.

``There's nothing I can do,'' said homeowner Bill Raymond, 55. ``You've got to keep your fingers crossed.''

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