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Utilities report fewer than 3,000 in area without power

  • 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 stage early in Cummington Monday as Massachusetts gets ready for Sandy. <br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Utility crews stage early in Cummington Monday as Massachusetts gets ready for Sandy.
    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 crews stage early in Cummington Monday as Massachusetts gets ready for Sandy. <br/>JOSH KUCKENS

Utility companies Monday night reported that fewer than 3,000 custiomers in Hampshire and southern Franklin counties were without power and that work would resume on restoring electricty at dawn on Tuesday.

The utilities early Monday night began to pull back crews working to restore power when the weather conditions became too dangerous and darkness fell.

For Western Massachusetts Electric Co., that scenario began playing out in the Pittsfield area and in higher elevations where winds were picking up as night fell.

“It’s too risky,” said Frank Poirot, a WMECO spokesman.

Debbie Drew, a spokeswoman for National Grid, said crews were primarily doing only emergency work after dark, with an expected damage assessment phase to begin at dawn Tuesday.

"Crews are at the ready to work on outages throughout our service territory," Drew said.

Western Massachusetts began experiencing its first power failures earlier in the day as Hurricane Sandy barreled into the region. By about 5 p.m., power losses were spread across the region, though in small pockets. At 10 p.m., 2,506 WMECO customers in Hampshire and southern Franklin County were without power, or just under 8 percent of the 32,381 served.

Chesterfield was among the hardest hit, with 558 of WMECO's 670 customers still without power as of 10 p.m.

There were 22 customers without power in Hadley at 10 p.m., according to WMECO, while in Leverett that number stood at just eight.

And as the wind speeds accelerated, the power outages began to climb. Amherst was the hardest hit of Hampshire County towns, with Western Massachusetts Electric Co. reporting 896 outages at 10 p.m., though this was down from more than 2,000 reported nearly five hours earlier.

Easthampton was experiencing a 44 percent power loss as of 7 p.m. Monday, but by 10 p.m. all but eight of the 8,138 customers had their power restored.

However, Northampton was largely unaffected by power loss. In fact, in Hampshire County as of 10 p.m., just 173 National Grid customers were without power, Drew said.

Statewide, though, 226,000 customers had lost their power, mostly in coastal communities and Worcester County, Drew said.

Poirot said the power outages were primarily caused by tree limbs taking down wires.

“It’s a direct reflection of the winds picking up,” he said. “They can only take so much of that whipping back and forth before the limbs begin to fail.”

WMECO reported that the higher elevations were being hit hardest.

Poirot said WMECO had brought in four times the number of line crews and tree trimmers than it had to respond to the October 2011 snowstorm, which left much of the region without power for a week or more. The outside crews are arriving from as far afield as Michigan and Oklahoma. They are staging in various areas, including Pittsfield, Hadley, Springfield and Cummington.

“We’re still getting crews in as we speak,” Poirot said early Monday afternoon.

National Grid, which serves Northampton, Belchertown and Granby, said it has 500 additional crews stationed around the state ready to respond, including workers from California, Oregon and Canada, according to the utility company. The company was reporting some scattered power losses in the Belchertown area early Monday night.

“We’re working on scattered outages across the state,” said Charlotte McCormack, a spokeswoman fior National Grid.

At Northampton’s emergency command center, National Grid had one of its many community liaisons present throughout the day, evening and overnight.

Dave Landry, who serves in that capacity for Northampton, Goshen and Williamsburg, said it is a service National Grid is providing throughout the state.

Landry said National Grid will hold a conference call at 7 a.m. Tuesday to determine its course of action. “We’ll do a damage assessment tomorrow,” Landry said Monday night.

The expected priorities will be restoring power to schools, hospitals and nursing homes, with the likelihood that some work would not be undertaken until Wednesday, Landry said.

At South Hadley Electric Light Department, which experienced a complete system collapse after the October 2011 snowstorm and a nearly week-long power loss for that town, officials said they were preparing to use outside resources to help respond to storm-related issues.

“We’re hoping for the best,” said Andy Orr, a company engineer. “We’re hoping this year we’re slightly ahead.”

WMECO and National Grid, which serve the majority of Hampshire County cities and towns, both have power outage maps on their websites. Company officials urged customers to contact them to report power loss and cautioned them to keep a distance from any downed wires.

“We are urging our customers to be safe, and if they see any downed wires to treat them as energized and report them as quickly as they can,” Poirot said.

WMECO’s customers in the Hampshire County area should call 877-659-6326. National Grid customers can report power outages or downed wires by calling 800-465-1212 or 800-322-3223.

Staff writer Scott Merzbach contributed to this story. Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

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