Bracing for the cold: empty shelters, stocked shelves, and falling trees

  • A downed tree also brought down power lines Friday afternoon on North Loudville Road in Westhampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH ROBERTSON

  • A Northampton fire truck stands watch over a fallen tree on North Loudville Road in Westhampton Friday afternoon. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH ROBERTSON

Staff Writer
Published: 1/5/2018 11:15:11 PM

NORTHAMPTON— Anticipating another day of frozen pipes and power outages, the Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School on Friday, but nobody showed up.

“We opened because a couple nights ago there were a lot of people reporting burst pipes and power outages,” said Carolyn McDonald, lead coordinator of the Red Cross volunteers.

McDonald says the Red Cross received a request from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency for disaster relief service in the area, and the Northampton Fire Department arranged for them to set up a shelter at Smith Vocational.

When asked why an emergency shelter was not set up closer to downtown, Northampton deputy fire chief Chris Norris said the space and amenities available at Smith Vocational make it the go-to spot for emergency shelters in Northampton.

“Smith Voc is a great opportunity for us because of the layout of the building and the configuration,” Norris said.

In addition to opening the shelter, the fire department worked throughout the day preparing for all types of emergencies.

“Between the winds and the temperature in particular we had a few crews out today cleaning around hydrants to make sure they are accessible and not frozen with snow,” Norris said.

The emergency shelter opened in the early morning, and when no one showed up by 2 p.m. they opted to close at 6 p.m. The shelter can reopen as needed throughout the weekend, Norris said, with Red Cross volunteers on call in case they receive requests for service.

The Red Cross has about 100 cots, food, and water ready to offer anyone stuck in the cold. Had anyone shown up on Friday, they would have been served lunch and dinner too. Among the eight to nine volunteers are trained medical and mental health experts ready to help with any additional crises.

“Sometimes when people get a little disturbed being displaced,” McDonald said.

With ample parking, a large cafeteria, and accommodations for pets, Smith Voc is recognized as a regional emergency shelter for Hampshire County, according to Norris. Pets in need of shelter can be kept in an external shed, kept by the regional Disaster Animal Response Team.

“Nowadays you’re thinking about people who have such a reliance on animals and pets, whether its for medical reasons or just the camaraderie of the animal,” Norris said. “It’s important to try to provide a shelter that is pet friendly.”

Survival Center

At the Northampton Survival Center, portioned bags of dog food sit on shelves by the exit, donated by the Dakin Animal Shelter, illustrating another way the community keeps pets in mind. Cars filled the parking lot soon before the center closed at 2 p.m. Friday.

In an average month, the Survival Center serves 1,570 individuals, including repeat customers, according to program director Sarah Pease. They were closed for the storm on Thursday, and on Friday they saw about 130 people, counting visitors for both weekly fresh produce pick-ups and monthly visitors for non-perishable items.

Pease says this is slightly less than average, and suspects the cold kept some people away. Keeping careful data on who visits the center and for what helps Pease budget, schedule volunteers and keep food stocks in check. The Survival Center also distributes winter coats.

In the past, before a major snowstorm when the Survival Center would close, they donated perishable food to the Red Cross emergency shelter up the road at Smith Voc.

Trees down

Strong winds also felled several trees Friday evening, blocking traffic and knocking out power for about a dozen Hampshire County households. At least three other vehicles slid off the road on Friday as well, according to Northampton Police Sgt. Josef Barsh.

In Westhampton, one fire engine responded to a report of a tree on North Loudville Road that knocked out power around 4 p.m., Barsh said. The electric company cleared the scene, and quickly restored power.

Soon after, another tree fell on Burts Pit Road, knocking out power for at least five Northampton households, according to National Grid.

In Florence another tree fell on the corner of Chesterfield and Sylvester roads and closed the road for approximately one hour, according to Barsh.

As of 6:47 p.m. Friday, Eversource reported 14 customers without power in Southampton.

For non-emergency situations, including anyone who needs to use the Northampton shelter, the Northampton Fire Department will have operators available 24 hours a day at 413-587-1030. They will also be active on Facebook posting updates and answering questions. Anyone experiencing a power outage should report it to their utility company.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at
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