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Lexington cleaning up in wake of Hurricane Sandy

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A large tree lies across Bedford Street by the Buckman Tavern after being uprooted by Hurricane Sandy. Wicked Local photo by Marc Filippino

By Marc Filippino/
Wicked Local Lexington Posted
Oct 31, 2012

Lexington — Lexington residents are still picking up the pieces after Hurricane Sandy rolled through town earlier this week.

Sandy, a Category 1 hurricane that touched down in New Jersey on Monday, Oct. 29, was one of the strongest hurricanes recorded north of the Carolinas. At its strongest, Sandy hit winds of up to 96 miles per hour and boasting 940 millibars (a statistic used to measure pressure systems), according to NASA. Sandy left 8.2 million people without power, as of Tuesday, and at least 50 dead in the eastern United States.

In Lexington the damage was not as dire, but residents still felt the impact from October’s “Frankenstorm.” As of 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, 2,117 NSTAR customers in Lexington, or 16 percent, were without power. Lexington Public Schools were closed Monday and Tuesday, and many other town services were canceled.

Town Manager Carl Valente said he has been informed by NSTAR that all power should be restored by midnight Friday, Nov. 2.

Cleaning up

On Tuesday, numerous telephone poles and trees were found blown over in various spots around town, closing several roads including parts of Massachusetts Avenue, Lowell Street, Angier Road and Shade Street. Both the fire and police departments put on more staff during and after the hurricane to assist with the clean up.

Sandy’s force resulted in many being stuck at home the day after the storm. John and Cheryl King, of Mass. Ave., watched their neighbor’s tree collapse into power lines, clipping their house and trapping their car in their driveway while also leaving them without power.

“It’s a little embarrassing,” said John King. “We’re the only ones that we know of on the block without power.”

King said people have offered help by taking the Kings’ food and putting it a working refrigerator. King said the tree fell at roughly 4 p.m. Monday. King and his wife ordered a rental car in order to get around in case of an emergency.

King said NSTAR needed to put the telephone pole back up and then wait for their phone company to fix the power lines in order to get phone service again.

“The hardest part is not being able to live a 21st-century lifestyle,” King said.

Outside the house, NSTAR employee Andy Coffin put up caution tape around the fallen wires blocking the street, forcing cars to find an alternate route on Mass. Ave. between Hastings Road and Cedar Street.

Coffin, who doesn’t usually work on repairs, said NSTAR sent out the majority of their employees after Sandy. Coffin was sent to Lexington to do damage assessment and make sure people stayed away from hazardous areas.

But even with the traffic cones, people were still driving near the fallen wires on Mass. Ave.

“The damage is pretty widespread,” Coffin said. “We tried to do as much as we can during the storm, but because of dangerous situations there are limits to what you can do.”

Coffin, who has worked for NSTAR for the past six years, said the harm from Sandy was the worst he has seen from a hurricane.

“It’s much worse than the damage from [Tropical Storm] Irene,” Coffin said.

On Tuesday, several trees and telephone poles laid across the pavement at the corner of Angier and North Emerson roads. Drooping wires hung within reaching distance from the poles that still stood. One resident said most of the wires on pavement were dead and cars were driving over them for most of the morning.

While police officers and NSTAR employees surveyed the damage, many residents raked leaves and picked up branches in their yards.
The town took preventative measures, cutting down dangerous-looking limbs that might come loose before the storm. But Bhumip Khasnabish, of Patterson Road, felt the town did not do enough.

While on a conference call in his living room, a tree in Khasnabish’s front yard fell on top of his house at around 4:30 p.m. Monday. A branch punctured through the roof just above Khasnabish, leaving a clean, circular hole that was still visible after the tree was removed the next day.

Worried the roof might collapse Khasnabish immediately took his family down to the basement for shelter. Khasnabish said it took several calls to the town and two 911 calls before someone arrived five hours later.

Khasnabish pointed out several rotted spots in the tree, which he said is owned by the town, and said it should have taken measures avoid the collapse.

“They could have prevented it,” Khasnabish said. “This is visibly an old tree. They should have looked at older trees that can’t withstand strong winds.”

Valente said the town must first assess the situation to make sure the tree belongs to the town. If Khasnabish’s homeowner’s insurance pays the claim and it is determined the town owns the tree, the town would then reimburse the homeowner’s insurance, said Valente.

Assessing the response

Overall, Valente said the town’s response during and after Sandy worked well.

“We think our end has worked fine and our plans have carried out,” Valente said. “Our own crews and contractors are working 24 hours a day.”
But Valente said the communication with NSTAR has been subpar.

In order to remove trees from blocking roads, Valente said NSTAR needs to let the town know when it has cut power. Once power has been cut, the town can move trees that are tangled in electrical wires to the side of the road and out of traffic.

“We’ve been waiting for NSTAR to communicate that they’ve cut power,” Valente said. “Once we’ve moved the tree, the next part is getting NSTAR to restore power.”