Wind rollicks region; residents remain powerless

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All around town, residents are dealing with wind damage. (Photo by Neel Tandan)

Hundreds of Colchester residents remained without power Tuesday morning, the second day of outages for some following a massive windstorm that rocked the state Sunday night into Monday.

Hurricane force winds – including some gusts up to nearly 80 mph, according to Green Mountain Power – swept across Vermont, downing power lines and trees in their wake and causing widespread power outages in nearly every region. Colchester schools were closed Monday.

About a third of Vermont lost power, officials said, and the storm is one of the biggest in recent history. All told, 115,000 homes and businesses were affected, including Gov. Phil Scott’s, he disclosed in a press conference Monday afternoon.

This storm marks the first time Vermont’s statewide outage map at the Emergency Operations Center is “totally red,” Scott added. “It really is a statewide event.”

Colchester-based GMP reported more than 45,000 homes and businesses – 112,500 customers – in its service area were impacted by the storm as of 7 a.m. Monday morning, and a second round of winds picked up again later that day.

Sustained gusts caused new outages despite crews’ overnight work to restore power to 92,000 dwellings, GMP said.

Still, 23,000 homes and businesses remained powerless Tuesday morning, and “an army of more than 500 line workers, tree crews and field teams” continued 24/7 restoration efforts, GMP’s vice president of strategic and external affairs Kristin Carlson said.

GMP reported over 800 Colchester customers remained without power Tuesday morning.

Major roads in Colchester were totally or partially closed Monday, including portions of Route 2A, as fallen trees, low-hanging utility lines and powerless traffic signals restricted travel throughout the day.

Colchester police reported Route 2A from Mill Pond Road to Birchwood Drive was reopened in both directions by 9:20 p.m. Monday, and roadwork was set to resume at 6 a.m. the next morning.

Travel was also fully restored to East Road, but Middle Road remained closed Monday night as GMP worked to remove trees hanging on lines.

State officials urged those needing help getting shelter, food or a power source to call 211, especially the elderly or people with special needs. Officials said the state can open shelters as needed, and calling 211 will help identify areas of greatest need.

“We want people to make sure they swallow their pride and ask for help when they need it,” Gov. Scott said. “As this goes further into the week and goes into multiple days, there could be more need.”

Indeed, utilities estimated some residents wouldn’t see power restored until the weekend, despite advanced preparation beginning last Thursday for potential widespread outages.

“It doesn’t really matter how prepared you are for a storm like this,” Vermont Emergency Management director Erica Bornemann said. “It means you have to do the hard work of getting the power back on.”

That work is made harder by the stunning scale of the storm, which rollicked the entire eastern seaboard, leaving New England states all clamoring for limited crews.

“From a labor standpoint, we’re just going to have to dredge on and get the work done,” Vermont Electric Co-op CEO Christine Hallquist said, adding the storm’s impact “really stretched the limit.”

“This is a multi-day outage. The breadth and scope so far is monumental,” Washington Electric Co-op general manager Patty Richards said. “It’s just going to take a significant amount of time and staff resources to get everybody back up and on line.”

Officials urged patience as well as caution, noting a wide range of potential safety hazards, particularly from downed power lines, trees and structures.

“The safety of the public is paramount – it is our greatest concern,” Bornemann said. “Please stay away from power lines. Treat every line like it’s live: Don’t go near it.”

Officials also reminded residents with generators to use them outside in open spaces, and ensure carbon monoxide and fire detectors work and have batteries.

“Many Vermonters want to know what they can do to help, and to that end, you can check on your neighbors and make sure they’re OK,” Scott said.

The state Emergency Operations Center will remain fully staffed until the need is downgraded, Bornemann said.

Utilities’ initial response targeted “emergency situations,” GMP said, like live wires and downed poles that closed roads. Officials reminded residents to stay clear and call 911 in the case of a downed line. Reported conditions remained dangerous Tuesday.

GMP expected to provide town-estimated restoration times Tuesday night after the Sun’s press deadline and directed customers to its website, www.greenmountainpow

er.com, where they can view a live outage map and sign up for text service alerts.

“As always, this is a team Vermont effort,” GMP CEO Mary Powell said Monday afternoon. “We’re going to continue to work hard; we’ll be working through the night every single day and night until we get power fully restored to the Vermonters we serve.”