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A look back on wild weekend of newspapering: Our 2011 storm edition

It was small. It had no advertising. It carried an out-of-date Page One “nameplate” that we had retired years before. Not four sections, just one.

But subscribers found this little miracle of news waiting for them when they got up Monday, at a time when information on the storm’s impact remained nearly impossible to obtain.

On Page One and in a supplement inserted into the Gazette today, readers can find accounts of the 2011 storm. Without question, it was a memorable weekend that dragged into a cold, wet week.

Early on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011, Gazette editors had mobilized reporters and photographers and asked them to get out and around the region to compile storm reports. Nick Grabbe toured Amherst, Steve Pfarrer prowled the Northampton area and Dan Crowley traveled Easthampton and nearby communities.

They had quite a story to tell, but with power out in Northampton, the paper, even as late as 4 p.m. on Sunday, had no way to produce a Monday issue. We couldn’t arrange for backup power to run the press or the editorial computer system. Help from a rented power generator — a big, industrial-grade one — could be found for an extended power loss into the week, but not within the few hours that remained to meet our Sunday deadlines.

As the day started to dim, Publisher Jim Foudy, informations systems chief Paris Finley and newsroom leaders landed on a plan to relocate to the newsroom of The Recorder in Greenfield, which still had power. Because both papers print at the Gazette office on Conz Street in Northampton, we were still in search of a press.

After more hurried phone calls, we arranged to print both papers at the Concord Monitor plant in New Hampshire, slipping them in to that pressroom’s schedule ahead of their own run — and allowing time for tens of thousands of papers to be trucked back to the Valley.

To make room for the Gazette’s team, The Recorder generously moved its Sunday deadlines up by many hours. By early evening, The Recorder had shipped its completed pages electronically to New Hampshire and Gazette reporters and editors took up seats in the Greenfield newsroom to pound out the eight-page edition.

In the lead story, set into a dramatic package of photos of downed trees and roadside wreckage, reporter Steve Pfarrer wrote: “The heavy, wet snow that blanketed the Northeast Saturday produced massive power failures, road closings and postponements across the Valley, leaving thousands of people shivering in the dark and prompting public safety officials to open an emergency shelter at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton.”

“Blizzard cripples Valley,” the main headline declared.

Photo editor Carol Lollis and photographer Mike Bradley recorded scenes across the region, including a sign at one coffee shop that said, “CASH ONLY PLEASE, or promise to pay us back tomorrow.”

In their stories, Pfarrer, Grabbe and Crowley caught Valley residents fretting and laughing their way through the tears. Roads were a mess. Downed wires posed hazards and all of Massachusetts was in a declared state of emergency.

Grabbe found a group of Hampshire College students who’d become stranded in Amherst center after attending a play Saturday night. They slept on couches at Amherst College. Baristas were recording sales on scraps of paper.

In Northampton, Pfarrer found Tony Henderson on Main Street, where he’d walked from his home 10 minutes away. “I wanted to get something hot to eat because I’ve been cold all morning.” Crowley found two dozen roads closed in his hometown of Easthampton. “This is the worst I’ve seen in 32 years without a doubt,” Police Chief Bruce McMahon told him.

Like nearly all Valley businesses, the Gazette took a financial hit that day, as we distributed a paper with no advertising. That Sunday, we sought only to get the news out, any way we could, and live up to readers’ expectations.

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