Power outages in North weren’t nearly as severe as in nearby towns, but Hurricane Irene still caused a lot of damage

By Peter Cox
Wicked Local North Attleborough
Aug 30, 2011
As around 500,000 Mass. residents sat in the dark, North Attleborough’s lights were on Sunday night.

Despite dozens of downed wires and trees from the high winds of Hurricane Irene, the North Attleborough Electric Department restored power to most North residents in a matter of minutes.

Neighboring Plainville was expected to be without power for three to five days.

“It’s due in part to lots and lots of planning, but it’s also largely due to some tremendous personal efforts by our employees,” said James Moynihan, general manager at the Department. “They got in in the morning on Sunday, and left at 5 a.m. Monday.”

Most of the towns that experienced long power outages were covered by National Grid, but Moynihan said North was able to plan autonomously.

“At the end of the day, it came down to having done a great deal of planning,” he said. “And we also worked very hard to make sure those plans were put into practice, like keeping out 10 main circuits up and operational. It was quite a challenge.”

Moynihan said the Department also contracted with local tree services well before the storm hit to be ready.

“There was a tremendous amount of tree work necessary,” he said. “But I can’t say enough about our outstanding, dedicated employees.”

Residents from surrounding towns swarmed into North for electricity, providing a boom for local businesses.

“We were mobbed,” said Craig Goldsmith, owner of Tedeschi Food Shops on North Washington Street.

Tedeschi’s stayed open through the entire hurricane, because Goldsmith said people needed it.

“It was a big benefit for the community,” he said. “I knew that we were the only town around that had power, so I knew we had to stay open for all those people.”

Tedeschi ran out of ice quickly as people looked to keep their refrigerated foods fresh, and Goldsmith said he even let people come in and charge up their phones.

“I just wanted to help,” he said. “Anyone who wanted a charge could get one.”
SweetWorks and SoupWorks also saw an influx of customers from surrounding towns looking for a hot meal.

“People are coming to north to eat,” said owner Michael Tobey. “Lots of faces weve never seen before.”
Staying open after the storm was a bit of a challenge though.

“The kick in the butt was a lot of our purveyors didn't send out trucks on Monday morning leaving us with no food,” he said. “We scrambled and made it happen by going to retail grocers  BJS etc. Customers seemed patient and understanding.”

Plainville without power for days

About 95 percent of Plainville was without power on Monday morning, said Police Chief James Alfred. And they didn’t expect power to be restored for three to five days.

“National Grid really doesn’t give us much more information than they give you,” Alfred said. “But there are so many trees and so many wires down, we’re looking at three to five.”

Alfred said the Target Plaza and Lowe’s had power, but the majority of residents didn’t.

“There are pockets,” he said. “But residents, especially on the west side of town where it’s more rural, they’re completely out.”

Alfred said that in these situations residents need to keep their eyes peeled while driving, because some stop lights were out, including the one at the intersection of routes 1 and 106 (East Bacon St.) near Rancho Chico.

“You should treat it as a four-way stop,” Alfred said. “Drivers on Route 1 may assume they can continue, but the best practice is to stop. People start to get into a rhythm.”

Alfred said the Police Department couldn’t direct traffic there.

“We can’t stand in the middle of the intersection for five days,” he said. “It’s too dangerous.”

Three streets in Plainville were closed for over 24 hours after the storm: High Street, Walnut Street, and Mirimichi Street. Alfred said there were a lot of roads closed Sunday, but they reopened quickly. Because High, Walnut, and Mirmichi had lines down, the Highway Department had to wait for National Grid to take care of the damage.

“You might think that, because we don’t have power in town, it’s safe to touch downed lines,” Alfred said. “But it’s never safe to do so. You always have to be cautious around downed lines.”

While no longer a hurricane, Irene still packed a big enough punch to knock out power to a total of more than 337,000 National Grid customers statewide

And some of those people could be without electricity for as long as a week, according to the utility.

National Grid spokeswoman Jackie Barry said the utility company had an “army” of crews from as far as Mississippi and Wisconsin placed throughout New England. “What we’re focusing on now is handling 911 and emergency calls (for) downed wires,” she said. “As soon as we get that covered, we can focus on restoring power.”

Normally, utility crews are called in from nearby states to assist during a bad storm. But with Irene striking every East Coast state between Maine and North Carolina, crews had to come from farther away and are spread more thin.