An Eversource spokesperson said early Wednesday afternoon that ‘it will be multiple days before power is restored.’
By Ronni Newton
Most West Hartford residents who went to sleep without power on Tuesday night awakened Wednesday morning to light – but only from the sun.
Town of West Hartford and Eversource officials are warning that it could be quite some time before the situation changes.
“It will be multiple days before power is restored. We have a huge task ahead of us,” Tricia Modifica, a spokesperson for Eversource, told We-Ha.com early Wednesday afternoon.
As of 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, 15,474 West Hartford customers – 53.71% – were without power.
Statewide, nearly 616,000 Eversource customers remained without power at 4:15 p.m., 48 percent of total.
“We have to see what the damage is,” said Modifica. Throughout the day Wednesday, she said Eversource would continue to assess the damage, which is the first phase of response to a large disaster like Tropical Storm Isaias.
There were already 450 line crews and 250 tree crews at work, and that will double in the next 24 hours, Craig Hallstrom, regional electric operations president with Eversource, said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
Modifica said that just because people don’t see trucks actively reattaching power lines and installing new poles, the company is working on it, with some of the fixes including re-routing power sources remotely through switches, even during the assessment phase.
The first priority, Modifica said, is to ensure that all are safe, and to respond to emergency situations. Those might involve structure fires as well as people trapped in their vehicles with live wires on the car.
Clearing blocked roads, where power lines have become entangled in downed trees, is the second priority, and then critical infrastructure repairs will be tackled before restoration of power can take place on a large scale.
West Hartford Fire Chief Greg Priest, who is also the town’s emergency management director, said Wednesday afternoon that he had had numerous conversations with an Eversource liaison had been assigned to the town prior to the storm’s arrival in the state.
Priest said the town received 441 emergency calls for service during the storm between 2 p.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. Wednesday, placing an extremely high demand on dispatch and responders. Dispatch took 900 phone calls, Priest said.
While the town cannot dictate the outages that Eversource addresses, Priest said they have been communicating to ensure that the power company knows where the urgent needs are – including the Hunter Drive area which has been completely cut off from vehicle access by downed lines to all but the first few houses closest to Mountain Road. Even emergency vehicles cannot get through.
Priest said Wednesday afternoon that Eversource has sent a crew to assess that area, and Wednesday evening he said that a tree clearing crew had arrived in West Hartford to begin work on critical areas, including Hunter Drive.
Once the final phase of restoration begins, Eversource will prioritize repairs that will bring back power to the largest number of customers, Modifica said.
The town has notified Eversource of residents that have medical-dependent power needs, and will continue to communicate to ensure that restoration follows a methodology that makes sense.
Although some power was restored overnight in areas of the state, additional damage continued to occur through the night as well, resulting in additional outages.
“The impact from this storm, in terms of power outages, is greater than Superstorm Sandy. The fierce winds with this storm caused widespread power outages and historic damage, affecting customers in all of the 149 communities we serve in Connecticut,” Eversource Vice President of Electric Operations in Connecticut Michael Hayhurst said in a statement. “We are taking to the skies to onduct a detailed damage assessment of our 17,000 miles of overhead equipment and using patrollers on the ground, so we can efficiently deploy our resources to get power restored for all of our customers. We recognize how difficult it is to be without electricity especially while many people continue working from home during the pandemic. Our crews will continue working until every customer has power back while also complying with stringent pandemic protocols.”
Priest said that Eversource is bringing in outside crews, and the town will be pairing up those crew members with Public Works employees and police in order to clear roadways that continue to be blocked.
A drive from North Main Street to Mountain Road along Fern Street involved two detours due to large trees across the road that brought down power lines.
Farmington Avenue near Garfield was also blocked completely by a large tree that had destroyed several poles.
Need to charge?
While power is down, cellphones become even more of a lifeline, and without WiFi access batteries run down faster.
The Town of West Hartford has set up outside charging stations – tables with power strips – at seven locations throughout town, and those stations will be open for the duration of the outage, from 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
Residents are required to bring their own charging devices, and should practice physical distancing when using the charging stations.
The locations are:
- Conard High School – Berkshire Road entrance, outside of grounds garage across from cafeteria
- King Philip Middle School – 100 King Philip Drive, to the far right of main entrance
- Bristow Middle School – 34 Highland Street, main entrance at north end of building
- Charter Oak International Academy – 425 Oakwood Avenue, outside cafeteria/gym entrance off of playground
- Morley Elementary School – 77 Bretton Road, kindergarten playground at front of building
- Noah Webster Library (main library branch) – South Main Street
- Norfeldt Elementary School – 35 Barksdale Road, front entrance
- Whiting Lane Elementary School – 47 Whiting Lane, north parking lot, loading dock
State officials said Wednesday afternoon that problems with cellphone service are due to some cell towers that lost power running on backup generators.
When the storm was imminent, Community Support Officer Troy Shipley and other firefighters reached out to a list the town has compiled of residents who need assistance, such as those who are on oxygen, to ensure they are able to contact family or friends and are able to have their medical needs met.
Priest said that residents who are without power should turn to family and friends for assistance first if possible, but those with serious medical issues that require electricity for treatment or prescribed medications should contact Shipley at 860-614-8237, or call the routine dispatch phone number 860-523-5203, so a care plan can be facilitated.
Town staff have also canvassed nursing homes and assisted living facilities to ensure their needs are being met. Most of those facilities put fairly robust plans into place following the October 2011 storm, Priest said.
Town officials have also been in communication with the Red Cross, should it be determined that a cooling center or shelter becomes necessary. The Department of Social Services, and Robert McCue of the Office of Emergency Management are involved in those discussions as well, Priest said.
There are a significant number of traffic signals out in all parts of town, Priest said. “Public Works is aware, and are monitoring those intersections with the police department,” he said.
“Don’t let the nice weather fool you. It’s still dangerous out there, Priest said. He urged residents not to travel unless necessary, and also to be careful walking since Eversource has not yet cleared wires that may be tangled in trees but not easily visible.
Public Works crews have continued to clear trees and other storm debris that is not entangled with wires.
“We ask that you stay off the roads, if possible, and to treat any wire on the ground as live. Report all electrical outages directly to Eversource at 1-800-286-2000 or through their app,” Mayor Shari Cantor said in an Everbridge message to all residents Wednesday.
“It’s really important that people understand they should contact Eversource directly when their power is out,” Priest said. That’s how the power company keeps track of where the outages are located and plans restoration.
Residents should not report outages to the fire or police department.
Eversource said that it has resolved the problems with its reporting system and customers are encouraged to report any outages online at www.eversource.com, or by calling 800-286-2000. “Customers who signed up for the company’s two-way texting feature can send a text to report an outage and receive outage updates as they happen,” Eversource said.
“Use 9-1-1 for life threatening emergencies or situations involving your health,” Priest said, not to report a power outage.
Eversource is responding, Priest said, but residents should expect that it may take several days for a return to normalcy.
West Hartford Town Hall is among the facilities that has lost power, in addition to Cornerstone Aquatics Center, Rockledge Golf Course, Veterans Skating Rink, and a number of school buildings. Food Pantry service was suspended Wednesday and the backpack/gift card distribution scheduled for Thursday was suspended.
MDC reservoirs were also closed Wednesday.
The Town’s Yard Waste & Recycling Center is open for disposal of brush,, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and Saturday 8 a.m.-1 p.m. A yearly permit is required. Residents are asked to refrain from recreational fires and burning brush.
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