Blackout: Outage zaps power from 29,000 Wednesday morning

  • Massachusetts State Police direct traffic at the I-91 Exit 19 off-ramp near the Coolidge Bridge in Northampton, Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The office clock at Jackson Street School in Northampton stopped at 9:00:56 for three hours on Wednesday, November 15, 2017, after the city and some surrounding towns lost power. Power was restored to the school at almost precisely 12:01 p.m. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jack Devlin, left, of Northampton and Jim Palermo of Southampton had the skylight-lit lobby of the Northampton Senior Center all to themselves during the power outage that affected the city and surrounding towns on Wednesday, November 15, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • The power outage that affected Northampton and surrounding towns didn't prevent Carol Watelet from conducting her tap class at the Northampton Senior Center on Wednesday morning, November 15, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jackson Street School Principal Gwen Agna, right, and nurse Rebecca Stewart use flashlights help light the way for fourth-grader Harleigh Vertucci in the darkened halls during a power outage that affected the Northampton school for three hours on Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Michael Superson, owner of Big E’s supermarket in Easthampton, talks about closing the store due to Wednesday’s power failure and instead turning the time into a day of chores, cleaning up the parking lot and getting ready for winter. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Brendan Rogers, the director of the Easthampton Council On Aging trys to reach seniors who had signed up for the Pre Holiday Dinner to tell them it was canceled because of the power outage. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kim Jensen, the activity and Event Coordinator of the Easthampton Council On Aging talks about the disappointment around having to cancel the Pre Holiday Dinner because of the power outage. The Center had 50 people signed up and a waiting list. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Donna Geis, owner of The Silver Spoon, in Easthampton, talks about how when they closed the restaurant due to the power outage they turned the time into a staff meeting. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael Superson, owner of Big E's supermarket in Easthampton, talks about how when they closed the store due to the power outage they turned the time into a day of chores cleaning up the parking lot and getting ready for winter. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dave Brown plays pool in the dark with Larry Gwozdz at the Easthampton Council On Aging. The two play most mornings. The space was set up to feed 50 seniors who had signed up for the Pre Holiday Dinner but because of the power outage was canceled. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Brendan Rogers, the director of the Easthampton Council On Aging trys to reach seniors who had signed up for the Pre Holiday Dinner to tell them it was canceled because of the power outage. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Larry Gwozdz plays pool in the dark with Dave Brown at the Easthampton Council On Aging. The two play most mornings. The space was set up to feed 50 seniors who had signed up for the Pre Holiday Dinner but because of the power outage was canceled. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 11/15/2017 1:14:05 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A widespread blackout enveloped thousands of people throughout Hampshire County Wednesday morning, leading businesses to close or revert to cash-only transactions, forcing police officers to direct traffic at busy intersections, and causing schools to light hallways with flashlights.

The morning blackout began around 9 a.m., causing major disruptions to multiple communities for more than four hours.

The county’s two power companies — National Grid and Eversource — said that sections of Northampton, Easthampton, Southampton, Westhampton, Hadley and Amherst were all affected by the power outages. Other area communities experiencing power loss were Chesterfield, Williamsburg, Goshen, Westfield and Holyoke. In all, some 29,000 customers in Hampshire County were without power during the peak of the outage.

Eversource spokeswoman Priscilla Ress said that of the roughly 12,000 customers who lost power, 7,000 got their it back within about an hour, and all had their power restored by about noon.

Some 17,000 National Grid customers were affected, spokesman Robert Kievra. He said power was restored by 1:10 p.m.

Ress said the company’s utility system is built with protection devices similar to large-scale circuit breakers, which shut down when a problem is detected. That’s what happened Wednesday morning. She said the origin of the problem stemmed from Holyoke Gas & Electric, which did not respond to a request for comment by deadline. According to several media reports, an insulator on a transmission that failed in Holyoke caused the issue.

When Eversource’s system shut down, that affected a feeder line to a National Grid substation, which lost power, Kievra said.

Paradise City goes dark

Northampton first got electrical power in the late 19th century, and throughout Hampshire County people had to contend with many of the same options their forbearers in the 1800s utilized — making coffee on a stovetop, air-drying hair and doing transactions by hand.

In Northampton, many businesses closed up shop entirely, including all of the businesses in Thornes Marketplace, according to facilities manager John McGee. Having heard that the power would be returning at 11 a.m., McGee allowed customers to make their way through the darkened hallways of Thornes to the parking garage, and had employees stationed at entrances with flashlights to provide assistance.

Other establishments stayed open.

Haymarket Cafe served people who could pay with cash, using the grill to heat hot water for coffee and tea.

“As long as we have running water ... we’re able to keep it going,” Hilary Talbot, Haymarket’s general manager, said.

Despite only being able to offer basic haircuts, as blow drying and coloring were taken off the menu due to lack of power, Changes Salon also kept its doors open, although cash was still the order of the day.

“It’s all I came in for,” said customer Suzanne Love, who said she normally lets her hair air-dry anyway.

The Baker’s Pin kitchen supply store was another establishment that soldiered on through a lack of power.

“We’re a kitchen store a week before Thanksgiving,” said owner Lisa Greco.

However, in addition to cash, the store also took checks and credit cards, if customers were comfortable having their credit card numbers written down and processed later. Greco noted that a number of the shop’s customers are longtime patrons.

“They know us. They trust us,” she said.

Historic Northampton kept many of its activities going, and Museum Manager Marie Panik noted that someone had called in that day with questions about records from the early 19th century. Indeed, she said that the association gets such requests from researchers in a variety of circumstances, be it a power outage or a 2-foot snowstorm.

“It doesn’t stop people who love to do research,” said Panik.

Nor does it stop people who love to dance, as Carol Butler Watelet, who is in her 50th year of teaching dance, didn’t let the prospect of not having music dissuade her from holding one of the tap classes she teaches at the Northampton Senior Center.

“You make music with your feet,” she said.

Northampton’s Police Department had officers directing traffic at intersections, taking the place of traffic lights affected by the outage. Police Captain John Cartledge said that the department was dealing with a flood of calls because many alarm systems go off when power is cut.

“It’s mostly alarm calls and traffic type situations,” said Cartledge, who noted that the State Police and people who would be off duty had been called in to help with the volume.

School also continued on; students were not dismissed.

“Students were already in school when power went out,” Northampton Schools Superintendent John Provost said.

When power was lost, an assembly was underway at Jackson Street School that included parents. It was reported to Provost that parents were impressed by the school’s calm and orderly response, a response that was aided by the fact that an outage had occurred there last week on Monday as well.

Power was restored to all schools by 12:58 p.m.

One other government system that remained active and kicking was the parking system. The meters are independent from the grid.

In Easthampton

At the Easthampton Senior Center, the power outage couldn’t keep Dave Brown and Don Bashista from the game of pool. With plenty of natural light coming in from windows around the pool table, Brown was busy racking up the balls for their next round.

“This is a game you don’t need power for,” Brown said.

Both men said they noticed the outage on their way into the Easthampton Council On Aging & Enrichment Center that morning.

One thing the power did stop was the T- Day pre Holiday Lunch scheduled for later Wednesday morning. Using their cellphones, the center’s employees tried to call the approximately 50 people who had registered for the meal.

“I don’t really have a lot of choice at this point,” said Kim Jensen, the senior center’s activity and event coordinator. “We need elevator access. We need safety lights.”

Although the food was being made off site, Jensen said there was no way to keep it warm once it made it to the center. She said the center would likely try to reschedule the meal for the following week.

“I’m just very sad,” Jensen said.

Across the street, Big E’s Supermarket owner Michael Superson used the time without power to clean up the store’s parking lot, as well as put away the store’s bike racks in preparation for winter.

“What else are you going to do,” Superson said.

By the time the Gazette showed up, power had been out for almost two hours. Superson said he wasn’t worried about the food inside the store, because employees were able to close all the cold cases immediately.

Across Main Street at the Silver Spoon Restaurant, owner Donna Geis was using the power-free period to have a staff meeting that had been scheduled for later in the afternoon. Geis said she just moved up the time so employees wouldn’t have to come back in later in the day.

“We’re not upset. We’re OK,” Geis said.

The restaurant was almost full when power went out that morning, and food service had to be shut down, according to Geis.

Outside of the Neil A. Pepin School, Noelle Fournier was on her way home after picking up her two daughters. Fournier said the teachers were keeping the students occupied.

A pet groomer in Northampton, Fournier said she wasn’t able to go to work because power was out there, too, so she decided to pick up her girls.

For Easthampton Police, one of the biggest issues during the outage was traffic. Officer Chad Alexander said he spent about 30 minutes at the intersection of Cottage and Union streets directing traffic until the city’s Department of Public Works was able to put up stop signs.

Alexander said the city’s fire department received a few calls of people stuck in elevators.

Mayor Karen L. Cadieux and School Superintendent Nancy Follansbee were in Boston for a meeting, but Police Chief Robert Alberti said he had stayed in contact with the mayor by phone, as well as with the fire chief and director of the city’s DPW.

“We’ve been arranging stuff all morning,” Alberti said from the police station lobby.

The city had been in contact with Superson, at Big E Supermarket, for a back-up plan to feed students at the district’s schools that did not have the ability to make lunch without power. Just before lunchtime though, power was restored and the schools no longer needed the help, Alberti said.

A serious impact

One woman who was particularly affected by the power outage, as well as the one last week, was Catharine Morrish, a senior citizen who lives in Northampton. Morrish uses a power lift to get up to the second floor of her home, and it stopped working during both outages. Moreover, after power was restored on Wednesday, Morrish’s chair was no longer working.

“The long-term effects of these power outages go on for days after,” she said.

Morrish said that repair people won’t be able to get to her until Friday, and that she will be sleeping on an air mattress her neighbor put in following the incident until the lift is repaired or replaced.

Morrish had to go down the stairs when the chair wasn’t working, and ended up falling halfway down, injuring herself. She also said that National Grid was not helpful when she called them about the outage.

“I’ve never had so many outages,” Morrish said, who also noted another outage about a month ago.

She said that she is considering moving out of her home because of this, as well as legal action.



Steve Musal, Dan Crowley and Tammalene Mitman contributed to this story.

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