NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 31, 2012

Amesbury hit hardest by power outages

By Mac Cerullo Staff Writer
Newburyport Daily News

---- — AMESBURY – Over 80 percent of Amesbury lost power as a result of Hurricane Sandy, forcing schools to close for the second day in a row yesterday and shutting down traffic lights at several major intersections along Route 110 and by the Hines Bridge.

Mayor Thatcher Kezer announced in a Facebook post that school would be closed after every school in town other than Amesbury High School was without power after 9 p.m. Monday night. Kezer said it was unlikely power could be restored by the next morning, especially given the continued high winds.

Over 350,000 people lost power across the state, and additional crews have been brought in from as far away as California to assist with the restoration effort, according to the main state power companies’ websites. Coastal areas like Plum Island felt the brunt of Sandy’s fury, but areas further inland experienced heavy winds as well.

Amesbury was among the hardest hit communities in the area utility-wise, with trees wreaking havoc on the power lines. The highest percentage of outages occurred after sundown, leaving nearly the entire city enveloped in total darkness.

Allison Heartquist, Kezer’s administrative assistant, said her phone was busy all morning with frustrated residents demanding to know when their power would be restored.

Heartquist said crews have been working since last night to restore power throughout Amesbury, but noted that it may take a while to restore some parts of town due to the sheer volume of outages.

She added that some residents have asked incredulously how its possible that so much of Amesbury could be without power while most of Plum Island, which was battered by high seas and heavy wind off the ocean throughout the day, managed to weather the storm with limited outages.

“There are no trees,” said Heartquist, who lives on Plum Island, adding even with the worse conditions, the lack of trees meant the power lines on the island largely held up to the storm, though there were some brief outages on the island overnight.

By daybreak yesterday, power had been restored to the downtown area and parts of town off Elm Street, Congress Street and in the western part of town. By noon, parts of the Point Shore were still without power, and several businesses on Route 110 near Salisbury were shuttered due to continued outages as well.

During a conference call yesterday afternoon, National Grid Massachusetts President Marcy Reed said there are currently 2,400 crews working across the state attempting to restore everyone’s power as quickly as possible.

“We will make very good progress over the remaining part of the day,” Reed said. “Our crews are continuing to work 16 hour shifts with eight hours off.”

At 1:30 p.m. yesterday, 42 percent of National Grid’s customers in Amesbury were still without power, according to the company. That number had dropped to 33 percent within two hours, and local officials said they expected all power to be restored by today.

Reed said she believes the company’s response to Hurricane Sandy has been much better than last year, when National Grid was heavily criticized for its slow response to Tropical Storm Irene and the late October snowstorm.

“I believe that our crews worked very hard and we restored power to the best of our abilities, but this year our communication was better,” Reed said. “And the fact that the storm took two days longer to get here allowed the extra crews who were coming to arrive before the storm hit.”

Crime Prevention Officer Tom Hanshaw said that conditions have improved enough that trick or treating can go ahead as scheduled tonight. Hanshaw said trick or treating will still be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., but reminded residents to be careful of potential hazards like downed power lines and tree branches and to stay in well lit areas.

“There’s always that possibility [of downed lines] but nothing warranting a postponement of trick or treating,” Hanshaw said, adding that kids are encouraged to be accompanied by an adult while out on Halloween night.