The windstorm that tore through Maine from Sunday night through Monday, Oct. 30 left a combined 484,000 customers without power for some duration of the week. Damages were widespread and Maine state officials are now working toward applying for federal disaster declaration. Last week’s windstorm has been referred to as worse than the ice storm of 1998, which left half of the state without power and saw all 16 counties declared as federal disaster areas.
Power was thankfully restored to a majority of residents by the end of the week, with some exceptions. Affected communities in Maine responded well to the outages — offering warm shelters in school buildings or churches, giving discounts for hot meals and banding together to share electricity in businesses with power restored. In retrospect, the impacts of this storm were largely minor. Power was restored to many households within a few days, and those still waiting for the lights to come back on had other options in their surrounding areas.
The hardships endured for a couple days during this windstorm are now reality for many United States citizens, and have been for weeks — some for years. Americans facing homelessness are often difficult to track, though many programs have tried. Though national trends of home insecurity seem to be declining, numbers are still too high. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shared some national counts last year. “On a single night in January 2016, 549,928 people were experiencing homelessness” in the country, they reported. Of that count, 32 percent did not have a shelter of any kind to face the night. That is just one night, with no guarantee of accessing electricity or heat for hours at a time.
In Hurricane Maria’s disastrous aftermath, the American citizens in Puerto Rico are facing their sixth week of having little to no access to power. Figures are scattered over power restorations. As of Nov. 4, up to 34 percent of power may be restored, but it’s unclear whether that power is reaching its intended communities. Some estimates show that power may not be fully restored until December, or later.
As Maine settles back into cleanup efforts and daily routines, we should reflect on our experiences with some national perspective. The storm is gone for most of us, but millions of Americans are still in the dark. Having the power off at home for six days, versus the six week darkness that’s still covering Puerto Rico — there is little contest there.
Many places around the Orono area faced much less damage than they could have, with underground power lines constructed to combat these situations. This sort of preparedness speaks to the resilience and foresight of communities. Elsewhere in U.S. territories, those same preventative measures are out-of-reach privileges which cost money to construct. Building standards are sometimes looser, which leaves towns and their people more exposed during dangerous weather events, like the windstorm or Hurricane Maria.
Electric Light & Power (ELP) wrote about the issue of overhead powerlines following Hurricane Sandy in 2013. “Although overhead power lines are typically more economical, they are susceptible to damage from wind-borne tree branches, debris and high wind and ice-loading conditions from extreme weather,” ELP reported. They further reported that running lines underground can cost “4 to 14 times more” than overhead lines. These are costs that some communities can’t realistically afford, despite the added safety and preventative good during extreme weather situations.
The cost and access to disaster prevention is not easily attainable, and progress on recovery efforts has been inconsistent from one event to the next. Joking that two days without power is similar to what’s happening in Puerto Rico may make us feel better, but it’s a gross overestimation of our brief inconveniences compared to the national crisis that’s happening in Puerto Rico, or in the streets of America every day and night.