Military cargo jets carrying about 200 fresh utility workers and badly needed equipment streamed into Maine on Thursday as a new storm headed for the already ice-covered region.
Forecasters predicted a nor’easter will drop up to a foot of snow in southern New Hampshire, northern Massachusetts and northern New York, with 3 to 6 inches in hard-hit central Maine by today.
Thousands of residents in the storm’s path have been without power since last week’s heavy ice.
“Tenan Lane has no power since 1-8-98,” read a sign nailed to a utility pole along a twisting, ice-covered road in Cherryfield.
About 78,000 power customers in Maine and about 74,000 in New York state remained without service Thursday. Fewer than 800 were without power in New Hampshire along with 2,000 in Vermont.
President Clinton declared New Hampshire and six Vermont counties disaster areas Thursday, making them eligible for federal aid. Maine and portions of New York had already been declared federal disaster areas.
Vice President Al Gore took a helicopter tour of Maine’s worst-hit areas around Augusta and Lewiston.
“It is extraordinary to see it, feel it, and hear it,” he said.
Shortly after Gore left from the Brunswick Naval Air Station to begin his tour, Air Force jets from North Carolina carrying fresh repair and tree crews started landing at the base.
The workers will relieve other out-of-state crews who have spent long days fighting bitter cold to restore electrical service.
The National Guard and L.L. Bean have donated parkas, long underwear and other winter gear to help the Southern workers cope with the harsh conditions.
Several eastern Canadian utilities also were sending crews to help.
The situation for people still without power could become even more dire in the next few days, especially if the forecasters are right.
“We don’t need a heavy snowstorm on top of all the problems we’ve got now. Not that we have any control over it, but we’re certainly hoping,” said Art Lester, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
In New York, William E. Davis, chairman of the Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., said the ice storm will be the most expensive disaster the utility has ever encountered.
In Gouverneur, N.Y., electricity returned to some homes Thursday for the first time in a week, allowing about a dozen people who had been staying at the town hall to return to their homes.