Severe weather pummels state

CARIBOU, Maine - Lightning snapped through the sky and strong winds damaged buildings and uprooted trees, causing widespread power outages across Aroostook County on Friday morning and afternoon.

The storms, which also brought pounding rain, struck farther south later in the day causing the same kind of havoc in the Katahdin region, Bangor area and other parts of the state.

Hundreds of people were in the dark as utility crews from Maine Public Service Co. and Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. scrambled to restore electricity.

In Caribou, an older barn located on the Presque Isle Road was blown down by the wind, Officer Doug Bell of the Caribou Police Department said Friday afternoon.

"The wind pretty much blew it apart," he said.

A funnel cloud was reported in Masardis, where strong winds blew the roof off the Fraser Paper sawmill, said Derrick Weitlich, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou.

In Presque Isle, the Northern Maine Fair was forced to shut down and people scrambled to safety as a strong storm blew through.

Joyce Nelson and other Wal-Mart shoppers were moved to the middle of the store until the storm passed in Presque Isle. She emerged from the store to find her car missing in the debris-strewn parking lot.

"My husband hit the panic button, and we turned around and there was the car underneath their shed," Nelson told WAGM-TV.

In Ashland, uprooted trees fell and took down power lines. Reports of trees uprooted along U.S. Route 1 in the County also poured into the weather service office throughout the afternoon, according to Weitlich.

The pounding rain also was blamed for a minor accident in Caribou when an elderly driver’s vision was obscured as she attempted to turn into a housing complex on Main Street, Bell said. She drove into a ditch but was uninjured, though the vehicle had about $200 in damage, he said.

The Houlton Police Department responded to a call from outer Court Street at around 1 p.m. after a report that the wind had blown down a tree into the roadway.

A portion of the tree struck a car, but damage to the vehicle was minor.

Houlton Police Chief Butch Asselin said a motorist also drove into a tree that had fallen across the roadway and brought down a power line on the Callaghan Road. Electricity was not flowing through the line at the time, and the motorist was uninjured. Police, firefighters and utility crews also dealt with fallen trees and downed power lines in other parts of town.

State police and the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department also were kept busy during the wild weather.

The Houlton area lost power just before 1 p.m., and crews with the Houlton Water Co. restored power just after 3 p.m. Maine Public Service Co. crews still were working late into the evening to restore power to some of its customers.

Many stores and restaurants across the County were forced to close until power could be restored because they were unable to run cash registers or dispense drinks.

Many stores in the Aroostook Centre Mall closed in the late afternoon because of a power outage. Storms continued to roll through the County into the evening.

Black clouds rolled in over Bangor’s skies around 7:30 p.m. and brought with them heavy winds, rain and hours of lightning strikes.

Widespread power outages left more than 6,800 Bangor Hydro customers without power in Penobscot County by 8:15 p.m., while nearly 1,700 homes in the Lincoln area and Piscataquis County were left in the dark. Central Maine Power Company’s Web site listed numerous communities without power in the mid-coast near Rockland and in the Dover-Foxcroft area in central Maine.

Emergency crews in much of central Maine were dashing from downed power lines to fires for most of the evening.

Elsewhere, fallen trees blocked traffic on U.S. Route 201 in Madison, and a woman standing near an electric fence in Cornville was struck by lightning, the Morning Sentinel newspaper reported. The woman was not seriously injured.

The storm hit the Katahdin region at about 4:30 p.m. By 6:30 p.m., firefighters were still responding to calls, but the worst seemed to have passed.

In East Millinocket, firefighters handled several calls of trees fallen onto utility wires. An engine company was sent to northbound Interstate 95 between the Chester-Lincoln exit and the Medway exit in response to a report of a burning tree.

Medway firefighters handled almost a half-dozen similar calls during that time. In Millinocket firefighters and public works crews cleared a fallen tree from Highland Avenue.

Lincoln firefighters reported a single lightning strike. Some Internet and cable television service lines were down.

Bangor Daily News writers Toni-Lynn Robbins and Nick Sambides Jr., and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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