December 26, 2013

Emergency shelters provide warmth for Augusta area residents without power on Christmas

Shelters didn’t report high attendances, but organizers said it was crucial to have them open for those in need.

By Paul Koenig
Staff Writer

Dozens of emergency and warming centers opened Christmas Eve to provide food, showers and, in some cases, a place to sleep for people while damage from the ice storm knocked out electricity for more than 100,000 households across the state.

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Andy Molloy FROM THE STORM: Owen Leighton, 1, reaches out for his mother, Julia Milonas, while being held by his stepfather, Jonathan Doyle, at the Red Cross storm shelter in Augusta on Wednesday morning. Owen and his brother, Bernard Leighton, 2, left, received Christmas gifts donated by local businesses and wrapped by staff at the Augusta Civic Center, where the shelter for people displaced by the ice storm is located.

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Andy Molloy ICE OUT: Asplundh Tree Expert Co arborist Randy Patten descends between frozen power lines Wednesday in Farmingdale after clearing limbs away from utility poles. Several hundred out of state utility and tree workers arrived in Kennebec County on Christmas to restore power. Patten travelled from Vermont with fellow arborist Ray Coutu to remove fallen branches overhanging hazardous power lines. "“You do what you got to do to help people," Patten said. "Particularly on Christmas.”

Related headlines

In Kennebec County, which accounted for close to half of all outages, shelters organizers didn’t report overwhelming number of people using the resources, but they said it was crucial to have the shelters available for those in need.

“The sheer numbers aren’t important. It’s taking care of the one person or the several people that really need the help,” Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said Wednesday afternoon.

For example, Miller said volunteers at the Alna Fire Department shelter cared for one elderly man who stayed the night at the shelter Christmas Eve.

Other emergency shelters in the area reported anywhere between none and two dozen people who visited Tuesday and Wednesday.

The number of people using the shelters, despite estimated 123,000 households that lost service because of damage from the ice storm, isn’t surprising for Maine, Miller said.

She said a lower percentage of people in New England, and particularity Maine, tend to use emergency shelters compared to other states.

“We’re a self-reliant bunch, I guess,” she said.

Around 20 people stayed at the American Red Cross emergency shelter at the Augusta Civic Center on Christmas Eve, according to shelter manager John Osbun. More than 2,000 households — about of fifth of the total Central Maine Power customers in Augusta — were still without power for most of the day.

“We’re going to stay open until everybody’s taken care of, and we’re not closing until everyone has power,” Osbun said Wednesday morning.

“I want to make sure everybody’s safe. That’s why we’re here.”

Some people were bused from the Augusta warming center or the Bread of Life Ministries homeless shelter, including families with young children.

Jonathan Doyle, 27, Julia Milonas, 21, and Milonas’ one- and two-year-old sons spent Christmas Eve in the Civic Center conference room lined with dozens of cots.

Doyle said they had been staying at the Bread of Life homeless shelter before it lost power Tuesday.

“It’s wasn’t good,” he said of the night at the emergency shelter. “I stayed up all night.”

Before the family left, volunteers at the shelter gave the boys, Bernard and Owen Leighton, presents donated by local businesses.

“I know it’s hard for people on Christmas. They want to be home,” Osbun said.

About a dozen volunteers, including Osbun stayed as well Tuesday night, but he said he didn’t mind spending the holiday at the shelter.

“It’s doesn’t matter. It’s for the people. They’re more important,” he said.

In Gardiner, no one had visited the emergency warming center at Faith Christian Church by noon on Wednesday, but volunteers planned on staffing it until at least 7 p.m. that night and again Thursday. Nearly a third of CMP customers in Gardiner were still without power Wednesday evening.

Esther Metzler, who volunteered to help staff the center for several shifts, said she assumed many people went to the homes of friends or families to stay warm instead of the shelter.

“It’s good to have it available in case somebody needs it,” said Metzler, 65, of Farmingdale.

West Gardiner Fire Chief Vicki Dill said about a dozen stopped by the emergency warming center at Helen Thompson Elementary School in West Gardiner on Tuesday and Wednesday.

About two-thirds of the CMP customers in West Gardiner were still without power Wednesday afternoon, but only about a half dozen people showed up on Christmas day to shower, Dill said.

She guessed that many others either were better prepared for this ice storm or had friends or family they could stay with while being without electricity.

“I think they were just ready for it,” she said.

Paul Koenig — 207-621-5663pkoenig@centralmaine.comTwitter: @paul_koenig
Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)