It's been four days since an ice storm struck the region, but many Southern New Hampshire residents remain in the dark — and many of them aren't happy about it.
"I do think we're low on the priority list," Atkinson selectmen Chairman Paul Sullivan said. "When all of this is over, we will have a debriefing with the utility companies to see how we can improve this."
Last night, about 130,000 Public Service of New Hampshire customers remained without power, 12,000 Unitil customers were in similar straits, and National Grid reported 6,000 New Hampshire customers were without electricity.
Sixty-two percent of customers in Atkinson were without power last night, down from 80 percent earlier in the day.
While they still didn't have power, the Kinney family took advantage of the 60-degree weather and started to clean up their yard.
Julie Kinney cleared fallen branches in front of her grandmother's house on Route 121 in Atkinson. Inside, 102-year-old Margaret Kinney waited for the lights to come back on.
"Having lived here when there were only wood stoves and no running water, you can get used to it," she said.
Julie Kinney tried to convince her grandmother to stay with her in Chester, but her grandmother is determined to grit it out at her home.
"I won't leave this house for anything," she said. "It would take a cyclone to get me out of here."
Atkinson pulls together
The prolonged power outage hasn't only affected residents. When power went out Thursday night, the Atkinson fire station also became the command post for the Police Department, which only has a small backup generator, not nearly powerful enough to operate the whole department.
"It's been difficult, but we've been able to overcome and adapt," police Lt. William Baldwin said. "After all this is over with, we'll look to make adjustments."
Baldwin said he looks forward to meeting with the utilities to learn more about their process during widespread emergencies.
"We've got to find out what their plan is so we can better explain to residents how they go about prioritizing," Baldwin said.
Eighty-two percent of customers in Danville still were without power, while 63 percent of Newton customers remained in the dark. Unitil customers in Southern New Hampshire are expected to have power restored by tomorrow night, according to a press release from the utility company yesterday afternoon.
More than 5,000 PSNH customers in Londonderry still were without power last night and more than 7,000 in Derry — two of the towns hit hardest by the storm.
Gov. John Lynch has asked Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to begin a preliminary damage assessment to determine New Hampshire's eligibility for federal disaster relief.
Lynch visited people at the American Red Cross shelter at Londonderry High School last night after visiting another shelter in Nashua.
Some shelters close, others remain open
Red Cross shelters remain open in Londonderry and at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston.
An overnight shelter is open at Hampstead Middle School, but one at Center School in Windham closed Sunday because so few people chose to use it. Salem closed its shelter, too. Windham and Salem residents seeking shelter can go to Nashua South High School.
Unitil had more than 100 crews working in Southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts, some from as far away as Tennessee. PSNH had more than 500 crews working yesterday.
As utility workers worked on lines in Atkinson yesterday, Lions Club volunteers served hot meals at the Atkinson Community Center. The Fire Department opened its showers to the public, and the town's elderly affairs program bused seniors in need of medical attention.
"I think we did a great job with what we had out of the gate," Baldwin said. "We've come together as a town to get through this."
Neighbors came together at Angle Pond in Sandown, too, where about half the town still is in the dark. A falling tree punched a hole in the roof of Valentina and Paul Roderick's home on Route 121A in Sandown, and another one wrecked their car on Thursday night.
The couple is using a generator and taking water from the pond behind their house to flush the toilet.
The Rodericks' neighbors helped them fix the hole in their roof, and gave them a safe place to park their other car. In spite of it all, they maintain a positive attitude.
"We're not in a bad mood," Valentina Roderick said. "It's very pleasant because people are so kind to each other."
Things are looking up in Salem
Things are a little brighter in Salem, where power has been restored to most of the town. But crews still are working 14- to 15-hour days, chipping wood and cleaning debris along roadsides.
"Yesterday, we went into the hardest-hit subdivisions, and today we have all five chipping crews back onto the main roadways," said Dave Wholley, Salem's operations manager for public works. "We will do it Tuesday and Wednesday as well because we understand inclement weather is coming."
The forecast calls for a mixture of snow and rain tomorrow.
Wholley said his department is getting calls about icy roads because people have been pumping out their flooded basements.
Some roadsides had to be cleared twice because once the DPW cleared the roadside, residents piled up debris from their yards. The town's transfer station on Shannon Road will be open until 7 p.m., for the rest of the week to help residents clean their properties.
All 38 of Salem's DPW workers have been pulling round-the-clock shifts so utility workers can get to downed wires.
"We've had several members of our department without power in their own homes and they have had family members with issues as well. We had one gentleman who had a tree on his house," Wholley said. "That's very impressive to me they put their call to duty first rather than their private situations. That's a lot to lay out on the table and for an employee to do that."
Staff writer James A. Kimble contributed to this report.
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