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Local officials say utilities had improved response to Sandy

  • Utility crews work to repair downed power lines at the intersection of Rocky Hill Road and University Avenue in Amherst Monday night.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Utility crews work to repair downed power lines at the intersection of Rocky Hill Road and University Avenue in Amherst Monday night.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • The roofing from Sophie Craze's barn in Amherst became airborne during the worst of Sandy's winds Monday night and landed in trees, hedges, and across the street in neighbor's yards, narrowly missing the house, cars, and other potentially serious targets.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    The roofing from Sophie Craze's barn in Amherst became airborne during the worst of Sandy's winds Monday night and landed in trees, hedges, and across the street in neighbor's yards, narrowly missing the house, cars, and other potentially serious targets.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Utility crews work to restore a downed power line on Route 116 in Amherst on the Hampshire College campus Tuesday morning after Hurricane Sandy hit Massachusetts Monday night.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Utility crews work to restore a downed power line on Route 116 in Amherst on the Hampshire College campus Tuesday morning after Hurricane Sandy hit Massachusetts Monday night.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Utility trucks staging at the Western Massachusetts Electric facility on Russell St. (Rt. 9) in Hadley on Monday afternoon.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Utility trucks staging at the Western Massachusetts Electric facility on Russell St. (Rt. 9) in Hadley on Monday afternoon.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Utility crews work to repair downed power lines at the intersection of Rocky Hill Road and University Avenue in Amherst Monday night.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • The roofing from Sophie Craze's barn in Amherst became airborne during the worst of Sandy's winds Monday night and landed in trees, hedges, and across the street in neighbor's yards, narrowly missing the house, cars, and other potentially serious targets.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Utility crews work to restore a downed power line on Route 116 in Amherst on the Hampshire College campus Tuesday morning after Hurricane Sandy hit Massachusetts Monday night.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Utility trucks staging at the Western Massachusetts Electric facility on Russell St. (Rt. 9) in Hadley on Monday afternoon.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Thousands of people remained without power Tuesday even though the Pioneer Valley was spared the worst of the storm.

Local officials said Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and National Grid briefed them on their emergency plans before Hurricane Sandy, then worked swiftly to restore power and respond to emergencies in area communities.

“They were staged and ready to respond for this storm,” said Easthampton Mayor Michael A. Tautznik. “Nobody was without power for too long.”

At one point Monday evening, 44 percent of the electrical customers in Easthampton lost power, but most had it restored within a few hours. The city, like neighboring Northampton, was spared any major infrastructure damage or lengthy power outages.

As of noon Tuesday, WMECO was still working to restore power to 8,000 customers across western Massachusetts, including large clusters in the greater Pittsfield and Greenfield areas. Most were expected to have electricity back by evening.

That is 20 percent of the utility’s 40,000 customers who lost power during the storm beginning at 8 a.m. Monday.

Power was restored to all but 1 percent of WMECO customers by 9 p.m. Tuesday, according to the company’s website.

“I think we were better prepared and are doing a better job of communicating, not only with the media, but with towns and our customers as well,” WMECO spokesman Frank Poirot said Tuesday. “We are redeploying our crews to the hardest-hit areas.”

In Hampshire County, Amherst had more than 2,000 customers without power at 5 p.m. Monday, a number that dwindled quickly.

“So far, we’ve had a good response,” Amherst Town Manager John Musante said Tuesday. “They had resources to apply to the relatively low percentage of outage calls.”

Musante said only one street, East Pleasant, was shut down for about three hours during the windy, rainy night because of a transformer problem. That knocked out power to several homes in North Amherst.

Elsewhere, two trees landed on cars while a third came down on a house and a car, but there were no injuries, he said.

“Our facilities came through quite well,” Musante said of the town’s resources.

Chesterfield town officials said a tree that knocked down power lines on Bagg Road was responsible for most of the power failures early Monday night when more than half the town was without power. The incident caused several small electrical fires and melted a section of Route 143 at the intersection of Bagg Road, said Larry Holmberg, emergency management director for Goshen and Chesterfield.

As of 9 a.m. Tuesday, residents on Mason and Sugar Hill roads as well as Ireland and Bryant streets were still without power, said Susan Labrie, the town administrator in Chesterfield. But for the most part the town was back up and running, she said.

National Grid customers

Nearly 200 customers in Belchertown, which is served by National Grid, were still without power as of Tuesday afternoon. The company could not give an estimate on when power would be fully restored in that town because it was still waiting for information from the field, said spokeswoman Charlotte McCormack.

That number had dropped to less than five customers without power by 9 p.m., according to National Grid’s website.

The utility was still working to restore power to about 185,000 customers across the state Tuesday.

Like WMECO, National Grid had significant resources in place. The utility, which also serves Northampton, Williamsburg, Goshen and Granby, reported it had supplemental line, tree and damage assessment crews from 31 states and two Canadian provinces ready to handle power outages, which translated into more than 500 crews statewide. The utility also said it put its community liaisons to work communicating with local emergency management officials during the storm, as did WMECO.

“It was a very positive experience this time around,” said Holmberg, the Goshen and Chesterfield emergency management director. “We’ve had 24-hour access to an individual person with their cellphone number. That was an improvement over the last time around with National Grid.”

McCormack said National Grid put in place a host of new procedures after the October 2011 storm, which caused significant damage and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers statewide, many for more than a week.

“That put us in a better position to respond this year,” she said.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

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