Valley residents cope as superstorm blows through
Downtown Northampton quiet as the storm picked up with most stores closed Monday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »
The windows of Northampton Chiropractic and Wellness Center on Center Street in Northampton are protected from the threat of strong winds Monday afternoon.
KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »
Frank Jurkowski, of Westhampton, a USPS mail carrier, collects mail Tuesday afternoon in nearly vacant downtown Northampton. He said getting around in traffic can be tough, but "today there is no traffic. It's a joy." Purchase photo reprints »
Josh Shanley, Northampton's emergency management coordinator, writes a press release as he monitors the storm at the King Street fire station Monday. MEMA WebEOC, a system that reports events throughout the state as they happen, is projected on a screen, right. Purchase photo reprints »
Josh Shanley, Northampton's emergency management coordinator, monitors the storm at the King Street fire station Monday using MEMA WebEOC. The system reports events throughout the state as they happen. Purchase photo reprints »
Utility crews stage early in Cummington Monday as Massachusetts gets ready for Sandy.
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Gus Perkins of Chesterfield's vehicle was struck by a downed tree in Cummington Monday and sat safely in a garage on Main street until Sandy passes.
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Deanna Scarfe, left, of Chesterfield shares a laugh with her husband Gus Perkins at the Cummington Creamery Monday after Gus's car was struck by a tree around 1pm as winds from Sandy increased.
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Thomas Massimino of 300 Main Road in Westhampton watches with his neighbor as workers from K & J Tree Service use a crane to lift a tree that fell on his home Monday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »
Workers from K & J Tree Service use a crane to remove a tree from where it fell on a home owned by Thomas Massimino at 300 Main Road in Westhampton Monday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »
Thomas Massimino stood in the rain and wind to watch Monday afternoon as workers used a crane to lift an 80-foot tree from where it had smashed through the roof of his home at 300 Main Road in Westhampton.
“I just had the roof done. They finished it last Friday,” he said. “We really didn’t need this now.”
Around 2 p.m., the tree in his front yard snapped off about eight feet off the ground, and crumpled the roof on the west side of his home. “You can see sky through the guest room ceiling now, and the rain’s coming in,” he said.
Massimino’s home may have been the earliest casualties of Hurricane Sandy in the Pioneer Valley, but it certainly wasn’t the last.
Chesterfield resident Gus Perkins said while driving home from Dalton around 1 p.m., a tree smash into his car on Route 9.
“It came out of nowhere and took out a headlight and smashed the windshield on the drivers side. I kept driving, leaning over to see out the passenger side of the windshield,” Perkins said. “My inclination was not to wait around for a tow truck if trees were still coming down.”
He suffered no injuries and managed to get to Cummington safely, driving his Toyota Camry to a repair shop behind the Cummington Hardware Store.
A 60-by-48-foot barn on South East Street in Amherst lost half of its metal roof in the wind.
From noon on Monday, Northeast Utilities had several large service vehicles parked and ready to go right across from the Cummington Safety Complex.
“The utility workers have been ramped up to the hilt. They took an awful beating last after the storm last year, so they are ready for anything now,” said Cummington Fire Chief Bernie Forgea said.
All over the Valley, as the storm moved inland Monday afternoon, whipping winds downed trees and branches, knocked down utility poles and power lines and blocked roads. While emergency crews tried to keep up with calls, residents did last minute grocery store runs, secured their homes and hunkered down to wait out the storm.
Some sought refuge in the shelter at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton, while workers prepared for storm refugees to come to the Cummington Town Hall and Safety Complex, Goshen Town Hall and the New Hingham School in Chesterfield.
Emergency command center
Northampton officials and representatives from utility companies kept tabs on the approach of the storm from the city’s Emergency Operations Center, in the Northampton Fire Department building on King Street.
The center is the result of state and federal grant money and was created after reviewing last year’s October snowstorm, said Northampton Fire Chief Brian Duggan.
That storm stressed the city’s communication infrastructure beyond its limit, Duggan said.
The layers of communication connectivity “peeled away like an onion” during last year’s storm, until there was nothing left until power started to come back on-line, Duggan said.
Now multiple systems to keep Internet connectivity running, along with land-line copper-wired phones that will keep communication open, even if the building loses power, are in place to keep information flowing in and out of the center during an emergency, said Josh Shanley, the city’s Emergency Management Coordinator.
“I’ve got eight ways to access the Internet within six feet of me,” Shanley said.
The 15 or so days of disruption last year provided an opportunity to look at what worked and what didn’t and apply that to future emergencies.
“We learned a lot about how to do it better,” Shanley said.
State-wide updates about storm activity and potential damage and trouble spots are running in real-time on one wall of the center, while video monitors keep track on the latest updates from regional and local news channels.
In once corner of the EOC is a simple, gentle reminder that the city and region will get through whatever Sandy brings.
“Storm will come. Storm will go.” a small sign taped to a wall reads.
While it was snow that crippled the region a year ago, this time its the winds expected in Sandy’s wake that are of paramount concern this time.
Duggan said he expects Sandy to deliver sustained winds of between 40 and 50 mph and pack gusts of up to 65 mph at its peak. Enough of those gusts against trees, fences, buildings, and other structures already stressed by sustained winds could cause serious damage and widespread power loss, Duggan said.
Duggan said there are two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters on standby for search and rescue operations if needed.
As winds speeds increased and light rains began to fall beginning around 2 p.m., much of Northampton, Florence and Leeds looked more like Thanksgiving afternoon than two days before Halloween with traffic light and customers scarce.
Two young women walked down King Street hand-in-hand, apparently oblivious to the wind and rain, mail carriers and parcel delivery drivers kept to their routes, and one man took advantage of being sent home early from work to get a run in.
James Farrick, 49, was sent home about noon from his job at Kollmorgan to take a 13-mile run, finishing it in just under two hours, before the expected high winds and rain picked up.
While road traffic was quiet, trees along the banks of the Connecticut River rocked in the wind, squealing like rusty door hinges.
Riding lessons were cancelled at King Oak Horse Farm on Route 10 in Southampton, and the 40 horses there were warm and cozy in their stalls.
Manager Beth Walsh said that since the farm uses the town water supply, power outages shouldn’t affect their ability to water their horses.
“Wind is our biggest worry,” she said at the farm Monday. “We don’t want trees coming down on barns and things like that.”
She said that some storms can make horses a little agitated. “They’re pretty quiet right now, but if this lasts a few days, it could get worse, because they’re used to getting exercise everyday and we won’t be able to take them out,” she said.
The Southampton Town Hall closed a few hours early Monday, so employees were long gone when a nearby tree fell down, laying branches across the building’s driveway.
Still, Interim Fire Chief William B. Kaleta said the department is usually staffed by on-call firefighters and EMTs that only come to the station for emergency calls, but he had three firefighters on duty Monday and Tuesday to quicken response times and prepare. “They’re getting all the generators and chainsaws up and running and fueling up the vehicles,” he said. “I made a list of people to be called in as needed; we should have enough to staff two ambulances and a couple of fire trucks, so we should be good to go.”
Easthampton’s Big E’s Supermarket was busy with shoppers stocking up on supplies. Kat and Jen Good-Schiff of Mount Tom Avenue took a wet walk to the store with their golden retriever Rosie Monday around 4 p.m.
It was probably the last good walk Rosie would get before the storm really hit, Kat Good-Schiff said. “She doesn’t like to go out in the rain,” she said.
The couple pulled out their Coleman portable stove just in case.
“We like to camp, so I think we’ll do OK,” Jen Good-Schiff said. “This will be like camping, but with a house instead of a tent.”
Store owner Michael Superson said the store was out of many kinds of batteries, as well as the gallon jugs of water.
“Yesterday, business was up probably 60 percent over a normal Sunday,” he said. “People are loading up on peanut butter and jelly, tuna fish, also hamburger patties and hot dogs - I think people are planning to grill.”
He said that if the store loses power, it has a generator that can power some back up lights and a few other essentials. “We’ll be here so people can get the basics, but it will probably be cash-only,” he said. “But if we can help people out, we’re going to try.”
By early afternoon Monday, Hilltowns were starting to feel the effects of Hurricane Sandy with downed lines and falen trees. A fallen tree in Chesterfield took out a utility line on Bag Road causing a town wide power outage around 2 p.m.
“Between Goshen and Chesterfield, I think we have had 6 large trees down so far,” Emergency Management Director Larry Holmberg said as he monitored his radio at the Emergency Operation Center in the Davenport Offices on Main Road in Chesterfield.
“We also had a person trapped in a car on Bryant Street, when a tree brought lines down on top of the car,” Holmberg said. “But that situation has been resolved without any injury,” he said.
Plainfield Deputy Police Chief Sandy Wickland, who was helping out at the Davenport Building, said that the New Hingham School is a designated shelter.
“Larry already has a trailer down there with blankets, cots and other supplies,” Wickland said.
After last year’s storm took out electricity across the region, emergency personnel and utility workers in the hilltowns are making sure they are ready this year.
“We are trying to coordinate or efforts to make it a much smoother operation for everybody,” Forgea said.
Plainfield Deputy Police Chief Stacey Magdycz stopped in to the Cummington Safety Complex to drop off supplies for Cummington, while picking up cots for Plainfield.
“We are prepared to shelter people here and at the town hall,” said Forgea. “But we really try to support people in their homes as that is a lot easier especially with regard to special medications, and pets,” he said.
Emergency workers in Goshen were at the Town Hall coordinating volunteers and food.
“We are a little more advanced this time. The generator is up and functioning and volunteers are lined up until 10 a.m. Tuesday morning when we will meet with Larry Holmberg and reassess the situation,” Town Clerk Gina Papineau said.
Meanwhile in Williamsburg, Emergency Management Director Denise Banister said the Emergency Operations Center would be at the Williamsburg Fire Station.
“We are at the ready,” said Banister. “I have gotten sand bags to people who might need them and there are more empty bags stored at the highway garage,” Temporary emergency propane tanks have been delivered to the Williamsburg Town Offices in case of a power outage.
Williamsburg Town Administrator Charlene Nardi said she believed that residents are likely more prepared for this years storm.
“Most people are doing what NEMA, FEMA and the National Grid have suggested. They have bottled water, non-perishable foods, batteries, and have done things like have cleared their gutters,” she said.
Amherst, Hadley area
As evening approached Monday emergency workers in eastern Hampshire County were reporting a small number of road closures and few downed trees on power lines.
Amherst officials declared a state of emergency at 8:30 a.m. Hadley officials activated an emergency operations center at 1 p.m. and then declared a state of emergency at 3 p.m., just as wind speeds began to accelerate. No emergency declarations had been made in Leverett and Shutesbury, but crews there were clearing a handful of roads of downed tree limbs.
“Limbs are coming down here and there in spots,” said Amherst Fire Chief Walter "Tim" Nelson.
In Hadley Michael Spanknebel, Hadley Fire Captain, urged residents to stay at home as the storm became more powerful. He said that two crews of emergency responders had been activated. At least one crew will remain on duty through the night, he said.
“We’re definitely ready,” he said.
Leverett Police Chief Gary Billings said no major incidents had been reported in town.
“It’s just hunker down and wait,” he said.
Shutesbury Fire Chief Walter Tibbetts said his department had responded to a mutual aid call for a structure fire in Orange. But in Shutesbury nothing outside a few downed tree limbs had been reported, he said.
Tibbetts, in a statement echoed by other emergency responders, said communication with utilities in the run-up to Sandy has been better than previous storms. He said he has been in frequent contact with a liaison at National Grid throughout the day Monday. An emergency operations center in town had not been opened as of late Monday afternoon. Emergency personnel would be activated as needed, he said.