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Powerful storm’s winds, waves lash Massachusetts which dodges direct hit

  • Diana Clarke sits on a cot set up by the Red Cross as she takes shelter from Hurricane Sandy at Weymouth High School in Weymouth, Mass. Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

    Diana Clarke sits on a cot set up by the Red Cross as she takes shelter from Hurricane Sandy at Weymouth High School in Weymouth, Mass. Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • A worker clears a tree dropped by the high winds prior to landfall of Hurricane Sandy in Shrewsbury, Mass., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain.  (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

    A worker clears a tree dropped by the high winds prior to landfall of Hurricane Sandy in Shrewsbury, Mass., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain.  (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • A worker clears a tree dropped by the high winds prior to landfall of Hurricane Sandy in Shrewsbury, Mass., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

    A worker clears a tree dropped by the high winds prior to landfall of Hurricane Sandy in Shrewsbury, Mass., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • John Constantine makes his way out of his house after winds from Hurricane Sandy toppled a tree fell onto it in Andover, Mass. Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

    John Constantine makes his way out of his house after winds from Hurricane Sandy toppled a tree fell onto it in Andover, Mass. Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

  • Diana Clarke sits on a cot set up by the Red Cross as she takes shelter from Hurricane Sandy at Weymouth High School in Weymouth, Mass. Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
  • A worker clears a tree dropped by the high winds prior to landfall of Hurricane Sandy in Shrewsbury, Mass., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain.  (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
  • A worker clears a tree dropped by the high winds prior to landfall of Hurricane Sandy in Shrewsbury, Mass., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
  • John Constantine makes his way out of his house after winds from Hurricane Sandy toppled a tree fell onto it in Andover, Mass. Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

“We have weathered the storm fairly well across the Commonwealth,” Gov. Deval Patrick said at an evening briefing at the state’s emergency management center.

Still, Patrick said nearly 400,000 utility customers were without power as of 9 p.m. and south coastal areas were battered by a potent storm surge of 6 feet in some areas.

Public transportation ground to a halt in the Boston area and flights out of Logan International Airport were few. Winds gusted above 60 mph and even reached 70 mph in some places.

Two people died in highway traffic accidents, one in Peabody and one in Dartmouth, but state police said the fatalities did not initially appear storm-related. No other serious injuries were reported.

The threat of coastal flooding prompted mandatory evacuations in sections of Dartmouth and Fall River and voluntary evacuations in other coastal communities including parts of Scituate, New Bedford, Lynn and Plum Island.

But most residents, like Tom and Lesley Chamberlain of Scituate, were reluctant to leave their seaside homes, even as the storm surge lapped at the base of a stair leading to their back door.

“The only thing that would make us leave is if the water got in the door,” Tom Chamberlain said.

A steady stream of onlookers went to Scituate Harbor during high tide at midday to see rough waves splashing over docks and boats rocking back and forth in fierce winds. Police blocked off several streets in the town, about 30 miles south of Boston.

Patrick said he was “cautiously optimistic” that service on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority would be back to normal or near normal levels by the Tuesday morning rush hour. The MBTA shut down all subways, buses and commuter rail at 2 p.m. on Monday because of strong winds.

At South Station, commuters stood in front of a train information board waiting to learn which tracks their rides home would be leaving on. But getting to the track was a challenge for some, as an alley of wind developed between the building and the outdoor commuter rail train platform with gusts that knocked some people off their feet.

Zachary Ryan, 19, of Bellingham, was there to catch the last train home after coming to Boston to visit a friend. The two helped others who were struggling against the wind.

“That guy took a spill,” said Ryan, pointing to a man who fell. “That was madness. He just went flying. This is the fourth time I lost my hat.”

State office buildings were closed on Monday as were schools, but Patrick said state government would resume normal operations at 10 a.m. on Tuesday and many communities were expected to reopen schools as well.

State officials said utilities that had been sharply criticized for their performances after two major storms last year were better prepared for this storm, with extra crews called in from other parts of the country to deal with the expected outages. Still, customers without power were told to be patient because many line crews would not be able to safely begin repairs until the strongest winds subsided.

Patrick said the state would be watching power restoration efforts closely.

Shelters were opened across the state, but only 108 people were reported staying in the shelters Monday night, officials said.

Eleanor Grossman, 82, said she decided to go to the shelter in Weymouth after her mobile home began to sway from the fierce wind.

“I was frightened,” she said. “It was beginning to move.”

Sandy’s strong winds were also felt in the western part of the state. In Pittsfield, a toddler escaped harm when she was pulled from her crib by her mother moments before a 15-foot section of an ash tree crashed into her bedroom.

The mother, Kim Esposito, told the Berkshire Eagle a neighbor called to warn her that the tree was splitting in two. She rushed into the second-floor bedroom to remove her nearly 2-year-old daughter, Samantha, before the tree came down on the house.

“I don’t even want to think what would have happened if she was still in her crib,” Esposito said, adding that it sounded like a “small explosion” when the tree hit.

Logan Airport remained open, but cancellations were mounting and ticket agents seemed to outnumber passengers in Terminal A.

“I was supposed to fly out today and head home, but Hurricane Sandy had other ideas for me,” said Shawn Hartman, 41, of San Antonio.

Hartman, a truck driver, dropped off a load of new trucks at a local dealership, then hopped a bus and train to get to Logan, only to find out his flight was canceled.

“I’m just resigned (to the wait),” he said. “They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do to keep everybody safe. I’d rather be here on the ground than, going down, you know?”

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