News, Opinion

North Shore slowly recovers after monster storm

Storm damage on Gardner Street Lynn. Homeowners are still without power the day after the storm. (Jim Wilson)

At this point, all that’s left is the cleanup, and the restoration — of power and lives. 

This storm, a bombogenesis (bomb cyclone) created by a sudden drop in atmospheric air pressure, exploded over the Northeast Wednesday night into Thursday, leaving thousands of Lynn homes without power at its peak. By Thursday afternoon, there were still nearly 3,000 outages. That figure, as of 4:30 Friday afternoon, was down to 1,065, or three percent of the city, according to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. There are still 168 homes in Swampscott without power, and 359 in Saugus. And if you go on the MEMA website and watch the numbers, that figure is continuously decreasing. 

Some areas of Lynn were hit especially hard. Myrtle Street and its surrounding areas is a mess, with private contractors from as far away as Canada down to help untangle wires and clear trees. It’s not an easy process, nor is it something that’ll take five minutes to fix.

And here is where both the power companies and their customers have to use a little common sense. 

This storm was unprecedented, at least for this time of the year. We are past peak hurricane season, even though we’ve been known to get them. More than one weather service has said that this was the most powerful storm to have hit this area — for this time of the year. So it’s not as if we’re geared up to deal with something like this.

We know we don’t usually get violent thunderstorms in October, and even if we do, damage is highly localized. This one cut a pretty wide swath across the area, with the worst of it hugging the coastline, meaning Lynn and Swampscott around here. Lynn had 172 trees, either completely or with large limbs, felled. Swampscott had 20 trees go down. A lot of those trees took wires down with them, and in some cases, the wind blew other wires off poles.

It goes without saying that when these disasters happen, the power companies, such as National Grid, aren’t sitting on their hands. However, oftentimes it’s difficult to know where to begin. 

In this case, power company employees have to untangle the wires from the trees before they can do anything else, which means de-energizing them first. Let’s say half of those 172 trees that came down, or were compromised, have wires tangled around them. How much work do you think it would take to get to them as expeditiously as possible; and how long do you think it would take?

So when the power companies ask that ratepayers be patient, and that they’re doing all they can, but the power won’t be back on until Saturday (which some people have been told), then they’re being truthful. Sometimes it takes that long. It’s taken up to two to three weeks in areas that had suffered through ice storms in the winter. A couple of days pales next to that. 

Nobody likes it, and National Grid is certainly not suggesting that you’re going to like it either. But that’s reality.

Now … 

In talking with one particular customer from East Lynn, we get the other side of the equation. What are the power companies’ obligations when these things happen? What should the affected communities be doing?

The man, who didn’t want his name mentioned, lost power from about 2 a.m. Thursday — when the storm was exploding — to about 4 p.m. Friday. Give or take minutes between hours, that’s about 38 hours. 

That’s 38 hours of total darkness.

“You drive down the street,” he said, “and the headlights just shine brightly into people’s houses because there are no other lights on.”

He understands the trials and tribulations of the power companies. What he doesn’t understand is why — in this case, anyway — they, and the city, were incommunicado.

“You call the city,” he said, “And all you get is ‘call National Grid.’ But they’re not going to help us.”

He’s not suggesting National Grid is going to ignore the problem. What he’s suggesting is that all National Grid has to do is restore power. Someone else needs to set up shelters, and pantries, or places to go for people to eat. Or sleep.

“If you’ve gone 38 hours without heat, and it’s 55 degrees, and you’re a senior citizen, it’s cold,” the man said.

The man works outside the city, and says that in other places, the minute things like this happen, there are people who knock on doors to tell of shelters, and community efforts to house elderly people so they’ll stay warm. Here, he said, it’s radio silence.

Adding to his mounting anger was the sight of power lines down in his neighborhood, unaccompanied by any fallen trees or branches. They just fell.

“And they stayed there,” he said. “For the longest time, nobody came to remove them. That means you can’t walk your dog down the street without worrying about live power.”

Every point this man raised was valid. 

So how about this: Let’s all do a better job respecting each other’s circumstances when these storms cause this much damage. Let’s understand that the power companies are besieged with work as they try to resolve the situation. On top of that, they are being asked to deal with irate customers who really need their power, either for heat, or for medical devices that go a long way toward alleviating discomfort. 

And cities and towns must remember that communication to get people through these situations isn’t up to the power companies. Have someone available to help customers with questions and concerns get some answers, or get some relief. Telling them to “call National Grid” is just not enough.

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