Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
Some clouds
49°
Some clouds
Hi 54° | Lo 38°

Residents reflect on historic Halloween snowstorm of 2011

  • Don Ostroski of Southampton (with his dog Scottie) showcases the tractor he used for the "Snowtober" storm last winter, when he along with many residents were without power and water had to be attained through other ways.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS<br/>

    Don Ostroski of Southampton (with his dog Scottie) showcases the tractor he used for the "Snowtober" storm last winter, when he along with many residents were without power and water had to be attained through other ways.
    JOSH KUCKENS
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Southampton resident Don Ostroski of Southampton (with his dog Scottie) shows how he made do last year when coping with out power for multiple days.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Southampton resident Don Ostroski of Southampton (with his dog Scottie) shows how he made do last year when coping with out power for multiple days.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Andrew Rome, in his basement which was flooded in the last storm because of a lack of power and where he lost many sentimental items.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS


    Andrew Rome, in his basement which was flooded in the last storm because of a lack of power and where he lost many sentimental items.
    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Andrew Rome, in his basement which was flooded in the last storm because of a lack of power and where he lost many sentimental items.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS


    Andrew Rome, in his basement which was flooded in the last storm because of a lack of power and where he lost many sentimental items.
    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • MIKE BRADLEY<br/>A house on Lincoln Ave. in Northampton was damaged by a fallen tree on Sunday.

    MIKE BRADLEY
    A house on Lincoln Ave. in Northampton was damaged by a fallen tree on Sunday. Purchase photo reprints »

  • MIKE BRADLEY<br/>The sun rises over Northampton the morning after an early snowstorm that left millions without power throughout the Northeast.

    MIKE BRADLEY
    The sun rises over Northampton the morning after an early snowstorm that left millions without power throughout the Northeast. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Don Ostroski of Southampton (with his dog Scottie) showcases the tractor he used for the "Snowtober" storm last winter, when he along with many residents were without power and water had to be attained through other ways.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS<br/>
  • Southampton resident Don Ostroski of Southampton (with his dog Scottie) shows how he made do last year when coping with out power for multiple days.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • <br/>Andrew Rome, in his basement which was flooded in the last storm because of a lack of power and where he lost many sentimental items.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • <br/>Andrew Rome, in his basement which was flooded in the last storm because of a lack of power and where he lost many sentimental items.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • MIKE BRADLEY<br/>A house on Lincoln Ave. in Northampton was damaged by a fallen tree on Sunday.
  • MIKE BRADLEY<br/>The sun rises over Northampton the morning after an early snowstorm that left millions without power throughout the Northeast.

People use plenty of words to describe the historic Halloween blizzard that dramatically changed our lives a year ago, but one strikes a chord more than others: survival.

As in, we survived the equal-opportunity natural disaster that struck nearly every corner of Hampshire County, leaving many without power, water, food and other life necessities for days.

But as disasters will prove, the freakish snowstorm that few will forget also led to tales of neighbors helping neighbors, spouses reconnecting and communities coming together in a way that many hadn’t experienced in years.

“It was a hell of an experience,” said Donald Ostroski, who lives in a remote area in the northwest corner of Southampton. “It was a matter of survival. We didn’t know how long it would last so we were planning for months.”

Like many storm survivors, Ostroski and his partner, Joanne Fappiano, hunkered down inside their home off Wyben Road for eight straight days without power and water. They thought about moving in with nearby relatives who got their power back more quickly, but resisted the temptation.

“I spent 29 years in the Boy Scouts, so I’m familiar with survival,” Ostroski said. “But it does make me wonder how they did it in the 1700s.”

Probably a lot like Ostroski did in 2011.

Each morning, the 76-year-old climbed on his small tractor, drove to a nearby brook on his 2-acre property and filled up three or four big pails with water. They used some of the water to flush the toilet and boiled some of it for cooking on a gas stove. Throughout the week, the couple sipped on a dozen gallons of bottled water they had stored up prior to the storm, a stockpile that Ostroski says they are even more vigilant about today.

The couple lost some food in their refrigerator, but Ostroski kept milk and other perishables in big outdoor buckets full of snow. At night, they read by kerosene lantern and bundled up under two big blankets for sleep.

“It really was survival,” Ostroski said.

But it was also enlightening.

“The best thing that every happened was no TV,” Ostroski said. “It was peaceful, very quiet. We loved it.”

Next time, however, they intend to take up relatives’ offer for a place to stay.

That’s what Bill Baxter did, though the South Hadley resident gave it a go in his own Lyman Terrace home for three days before packing up for his son’s house in Holyoke.

“We used the fireplace at first, but on the second day it went out while I was sleeping,” Baxter recalled. “I woke up freezing and said that’s the end of that.”

Baxter remembers lying in bed the night of the storm, listening to branches breaking under the weight of the snow.

“I could hear them snapping and thudding to the ground,” he said. “It worried me. When I got up in the morning, I couldn’t believe how much tree damage there was, but it was that way everywhere.”

Baxter said the storm caused about $4,000 in damage to his home’s siding, and he spent about that much to remove the branches from his yard.

Utilities take blame

While residents in all communities suffered, Belchertown arguably was the hardest hit. The situation got so bad that it drew the attention of Gov. Deval Patrick, who visited the town and met with disgruntled citizens. After hearing from residents like Andrew Rome, the governor later criticized National Grid for its response effort.

“I have absolutely no trust or faith in National Grid,” Rome, 53, said this week as he recounted his storm tale for the Gazette.

The North Washington Street resident remains “angry, disgusted and disappointed” in the utility’s slow response and its lack of accountability that he said continues to this day.

As a result, Rome spent $1,500 to buy a generator and hire an electrician to wire his house should he lose power again.

National Grid wasn’t even in Rome’s mind on the night of the storm. When he let his dog out at 10:45 p.m. and still had power, Rome recalled thinking he could just be one of the lucky ones. A short time later, the lights flicked off for good and would not come back for a full week.

The next morning Rome woke up to a “war zone” of fallen trees, including one across his driveway.

While he spent most of the week at a close friend’s house, the lack of power caused some $12,000 in damage when sump pumps failed and a foot of water flooded his basement. The water destroyed many of the mementos he kept to remember his spouse, Mark Sawula, who died suddenly a month before the storm.

“I’m trying to get over a spouse dying and then I have to deal with this,” he said, referring to National Grid as much as the storm. “I wanted it understood that it’s not only about electricity. That I lost more than that.”

Getting to know neighbors

Another Belchertown resident, Cheryl Patruski, agreed that the town looked like a war zone.

“There were tree limbs and wires all over the road,” said Patruski, 65, who lives her husband, Bernie, in the Pine Valley Plantation, a mobile home park off Route 21. “It was not safe to venture out.”

The couple became one of the first guests at the town’s emergency shelter.

“My kids wanted me to stay with them but we couldn’t get out of town and the shelter really wasn’t a terrible place,” Patruski said. “They were very pleasant and helpful.”

Patruski acknowledged it was a tough week, but in a what-can-you-do-about-it tone, she said, “nothing really terrible happened. We survived.”

Like most area residents interviewed this week, Patruski said the experience came with a silver lining. “I met more of my neighbors,” she said. “I met a lot of people that I hadn’t before because I was working. It was kind of a social place.”

This type of interaction occurred in numerous communities, where families gathered for meals, conversations and camaraderie.

That’s a lesson Corina Miller likes to think about, even though she missed out on the opportunity to bond with her Northampton neighbors after the storm. She was out of town on business.

“I was almost jealous of everyone else’s experience,” Miller said. “I know people suffered, but I’m talking about the chance to cozy up with my neighbors and have this huge adventure. I’m envious.”

For Miller, the storm helped bring into focus how vulnerable society is to the effects of natural disasters. She hopes people begin to take steps to reduce their dependence on “governmental infrastructure” and seek out ways to live more independently by installing greenhouses, growing livestock and going solar, to name a few.

“There are lots of lessons to be learned,” she said. “It could happen again and it goes to show us how vulnerable we are.”

Guardian angel

Douglas Blanchard saw firsthand how vulnerable people are as he drove around Southampton with a generator in his truck, stopping at the homes of elderly residents, those with children or others in need to give them power for an hour.

“It was the most wonderful thing I’ve done,” said Blanchard, a retired master electrician and former Southampton selectman.

The idea came about after a highway department worker wondered aloud who was taking care of his family while he was taking care of everyone else. So Blanchard borrowed the town’s spare generator and set out on a mission. He ended up visiting about 15 homes a day, focusing on the many elderly who refused to leave.

“It would be 35 degrees, they’d all be bundled up with no water and electricity,” he said. “They wouldn’t leave the house and they were freezing to death.”

Blanchard, 65, recently retired and left Blanchard & Daly Electrical Contractors for others to run, but there’s no doubt he would lend a hand again if another storm were to hit.

“It was just so needed,” he said. “I was so grateful to be able to do it. We have to help one another. It meant that much to me to watch an old person smile.”

Related

State investigation of utility companies nears end

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

NORTHAMPTON — State regulators are expected to rule soon on year-long investigations into the performance of utility companies during the October 2011 snowstorm that crippled the region. Decisions by the state Department of Public Utilities on how Western Massachusetts Electric Co., National Grid and NSTAR planned for and responded to the storm and the massive, prolonged power outages that ensued …

Looking back at a blizzard’s hard landing throughout the Valley

Saturday, October 27, 2012

By Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, weather forecasters had noticed cold air funneling into New England from Canada and the storm brewing off the Carolina coast. They predicted a big storm. It had already been a freak year for weather. New England received record snow in January, passed a warm early spring and the Springfield area was hit by tornadoes June …

Legacy Comments0
There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.