EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 11, 2013

Gov. 'very concerned' as families face Day 3 without power

By Michael Norton
State House News Service

---- — SCITUATE, Mass. - With about 100,000 Massachusetts homes in the dark for a third day, Gov. Deval Patrick toured Blizzard of 2013 damage on the South Shore this morning and declared ongoing power restoration efforts “pretty good” while expressing concern for families spending prolonged periods in homes where temperatures have been diving towards the freezing mark.

At Scituate High School, where he was accompanied by emergency management officials and Reps. James Cantwell (D-Marshfield) and Garrett Bradley (D-Hingham), Patrick said he’d witnessed snapped telephone poles, downed trees, damaged seawalls and “extraordinary” amounts of debris in coastal towns.

Thanking residents for their patience, Patrick acknowledged the hardships in towns without power, where the temperatures in homes have fallen below 40 degrees, causing homeowners to be concerned about their pipes freezing and bursting.

“I know it’s been many days without power,” the governor said.

At about 9:45 a.m., Patrick estimated power had been restored over the past 72 hours to 300,000 homes across Massachusetts, with 100,000 more still waiting for crews to bring their homes back online.

Asked his opinion of the pace of power restoration efforts, Patrick, comparing it to efforts in the wake of last October’s storm, said “on the whole it’s pretty good,” but added, “If you’re the one without power, it’s not going fast enough.” Patrick said communication efforts by utilities had been “better” in this storm.

According to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, 116,000 electricity customers were without power as of noon Monday, including 23,000 National Grid and 93,000 NSTAR customers.

With long storm-related power outages becoming more common, Patrick was asked whether he thought it was due to the severity of storms, the capacity of response crews, or both. He answered, in part, with a call on utilities to investigate an option that could protect power lines from falling trees and debris.

“It’s the power of the storms and it’s the fact that many of our wires are above ground,” Patrick said. “I am personally very interested in seeing a real analysis done by the utilities of what it would cost to bury utilities underground. I know it’s expensive but I have to believe that the cost of recovery, the disruption to people’s personal and work lives over time, and given the increased frequency of storms of this severity, which is something that meteorologists are telling us to get used to, seems to me to weigh in that balance. I’d be very interested to see the utilities do that.”

He added, “Meteorologists are telling us that we are going to see more storms like this. We’re going to have to start thinking long-term about how we adjust. I don’t know what all of those issues are. I’ve heard about some of them today. I do think that’s kind of a public conversation that we in this Commonwealth and frankly in this country are going to have to start happening.”

State officials also expressed concern about the potential for melting snow, compounded by rain that was falling on Monday, adding weight to the snowpack on rooftops. Patrick suggested homeowners remove snow from rooftops “if they can do so safely.”

Light fluffy snow weighs about three pounds per cubic foot while wet snow weighs 21 pounds per cubic foot, according to state Department of Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Gatzunis.

Patrick said he was “very concerned” about the public safety issues facing families living in cold homes, but said shelters are available, noting 130 people had sought shelter at Scituate High School and about 1,500 people at shelters around the state. He urged people to call 211 for information about shelter options.

Asked about people without electricity and heat concerned about frozen pipes, Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt Schwartz encouraged people to “think of their health and their safety…first.”

Mentioning a family who showed up at a Plymouth shelter with a hypothermic child who needed hospitalization, Schwartz said people should be turning off the water supply to their homes if they don’t have power.

Patrick said he’d heard that opening faucets to allow some drip can be beneficial.

Public Safety Commissioner Gatzunis said, “If people leave the water on then they can leave the water trickling. We don’t want it to run but leaving it trickled will help stop the pipes from freezing. But if they’re going to leave and shut the water off then they should shut it off at the main.”