Hurricane Lee didn’t quite live up to the midweek hype here in Maine, but the massive storm still brought high winds, heavy rain and dangerous coastal conditions to much of the state Saturday, particularly the easternmost counties.

At least one person died because of the storm: a 51-year-old man from Searsport whose vehicle was struck by a falling tree as he was driving.

Power outages – most attributable to fallen trees and branches – grew steadily throughout the day for customers of both Central Maine Power, which serves southern and central Maine, and Versant Power, which supplies electricity to eastern and northern areas, but then started to come down by late afternoon.

As of 9 p.m. Saturday night, the number of CMP customers without power was just over 36,000, down from a peak above 61,000, with Lincoln and Waldo counties hit the hardest.

Versant peaked at slightly more than 36,000 customers without power about 2 p.m. Saturday, including more than 60% of all homes in Washington County, which was closest to the center of the storm as it traveled north. That had dropped to about 18,000 by Saturday night.

Cumberland and York counties had only a combined 800 customers without power at 9 p.m., as reported by CMP’s outage list.

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Restoration efforts were hampered by high winds, which can be dangerous for crews.

“Winds and rain are still a strong concern for us at the power company,” Versant spokeswoman Judy Long said. “We had to pull our crews down for a period of time. The safety of our crews is paramount.”

CMP spokesman Jon Breed said the utility’s policy is to wait until winds drop below 35 mph before crews can go up in buckets, “so we had to wait in some areas.”

Both Long and Breed said the goal was to restore power to all customers by Monday.

Jon Palmer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said Hurricane Lee was a tricky storm to forecast.

“There was a period three or four days out where it looked like the storm was trying to shift west, but as we got closer, it settled on the eastern track that we saw,” Palmer said Saturday evening. “It performed as expected across the region.”

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Palmer said it’s rare for a hurricane to pass over Bermuda and also make landfall on the East Coast. Usually, storms like this turn hard to the east and out to sea.

By the time the storm reached land, it had weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm to a nor’easter. Wind gusts of up to 40-50 mph were felt along the coast, but rainfall was relatively light much of Saturday in southern and western Maine, which were on the west side of the storm’s eye.

The biggest concern with the storm was downed trees. Palmer said that because of heavy rain much of the summer, soils were saturated, which made conditions more susceptible. The NWS office in Gray fielded more than 40 reports of downed trees by early Saturday evening, he said.

The Waldo County Sheriff’s office said a man died in Searsport after a tree fell on his vehicle sometime after 9 a.m. on Route 1. The 51-year-old’s name was not immediately released. Officials initially said he was 50 but later corrected themselves.

In Cape Elizabeth, Shore Road was closed because of a fallen tree; the same was true for Fogg Road in Scarborough. In Bath, where multiple roads were closed, police advised drivers to stay off roads if possible as crews respond to “multiple electrical hazards throughout the county” because of downed trees and power lines. In Rockland, a region hit hard, power outages were widespread. A Rockland public services worker was hurt on upper Cedar Street when a tree limb crashed down on him, causing a shoulder injury, as he cleared debris.

Shore Road in Cape Elizabeth closed because of a downed tree Saturday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Maine Emergency Management Agency director Peter Rogers cautioned residents to be mindful of debris on the roads when they venture out on Sunday and to steer clear of any flooded roads. He also said people should stay off the water, even if the weather seems calm.

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“It’s not safe to be in the surf,” he said.

Portland city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said she received no major reports of problems from the storm, “just two small limbs down.”

City staff were conducting outreach with the homeless population as well and First Parish Church on Congress Street was open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. First Parish had the capacity to shelter as many as 150 people during the day Saturday.

Other shelters opened Saturday, too, including the Augusta Civic Center.

About noon, there were nine people inside, including four children who ran around the room, doing handstands against the walls and watching cartoons on phones.

In a corner, a refrigerator sat buzzing, stocked with stacks of sandwiches, juice boxes and salad kits.

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Josh Kingsbury, there with a younger brother and two little cousins, said they arrived at the shelter about 9 a.m. after grabbing breakfast at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church.

“If it wasn’t for these churches providing food and shelter, I don’t know what we would do, especially on days like these,” Kingsbury said. “We need warm places.”

He noted that a lot of the people in and outside the shelter did not have a place to stay after 8 p.m. The plan was to get dinner at another church, after which the group was going to scatter and take cover. Those who had cars were going to sleep in them. Kingsbury’s family planned to stay at a friend’s place, but many others did not have those options.

“There are more of us, but a lot of them did not come here because they didn’t know what they were going to do after,” Kingsbury said. “It’s a blessing that the storm isn’t as bad so far as people said it was going to be.”

People gather at the intersection of North and Riverside avenues in Camp Ellis, where large waves caused minor flooding on Saturday during storm Lee. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

At the Portland jetport, early-morning flights were able to take off Saturday, but several others were canceled because of winds.

“We’ve had about 50% of our flights canceled,” jetport Assistant Director Zach Sundquist said. “We did have quite a few departed (Saturday) morning that got out. … It’s a matter of how hard the wind is blowing.”

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Frontier and Breeze canceled all flights out of Portland on Saturday. Other airlines that called off some flights included United, JetBlue, American and Delta. Most of the cancellations were the smaller, regional jets, Sundquist said, adding that normal operation is expected on Sunday.

Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, the home of the Portland Head Light, was closed Saturday because of the storm.

Officials in coastal towns also cautioned people to stay away from beaches and areas that frequently flood during storms.

At Scarborough’s Higgins Beach, there were plenty of surf watchers and even surfers in the water, despite warnings that people should stay out of the water; the storm was expected to create dangerous surf and rip current conditions until Monday.

A crowd gathers to watch the large waves from Lee at Higgins Beach on Saturday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Town firefighters and police are monitoring the beaches, but the harbormaster boats were taken out of the water Friday – which would diminish the chance for an ocean rescue, Portland Deputy Fire Chief John Brennan said Saturday. Depending on conditions, rescue launches could be too dangerous during the storm, he said. If an emergency call comes in, emergency workers would “determine what’s the best course of action,” Brennan said.

Drownings because of rip currents are a lead cause of weather fatalities, Brennan said. National Weather Service data shows that in the last 10 years, 71 people have drowned because of rip currents.

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Biddeford’s public beaches were closed through Sunday morning and parking will be prohibited in all beach parking areas. In York, Long Sands, Short Sands, Cape Neddick and Harbor beaches were closed until sunrise Sunday. Officials warned that water rescue by local, state or federal emergency responders would most likely not be possible during the storm. All beaches in Ogunquit were also closed through 5 a.m. Sunday.

In the Hancock County town of Winter Harbor, two lobstermen – one of them Billy Bob Faulkingham, Maine’s House Republican minority leader – survived after their boat overturned while they were hauling traps Friday ahead of the storm, officials told the Associated Press.

The boat’s emergency locator beacon alerted authorities, and the two fishermen clung to the hull of the overturned boat until help arrived, Winter Harbor Police Chief Danny Mitchell said. The 42-foot boat sank.

“They’re very lucky to be alive,” he said.

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Faulkingham could not be reached Saturday. His cellphone was not accepting messages, and a spokesman for the House Republican office did not immediately respond by email to the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Gov. Janet Mills declared a state of emergency Thursday in anticipation of the storm and asked President Biden to issue a Presidential Emergency Disaster Declaration – which he did – allowing the state to access federal resources and personnel to assist with the storm response.

This story includes material from the Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel, Courier Gazette and the Associated Press.

Correction: This story was updated at 6:46 p.m. on Sept. 16, 2023, to correct the age of the Searsport man killed by a falling tree. He was 51. Officials initially gave an incorrect age.

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