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The Nor'easter of October 2011: downed trees, cut power lines & sad grasshoppers

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Fuzzy....very few true Yankees left in MA.  They weren't the ones who were unprepared and whining.  Our nanny state has turned most people into expecting the government to do everything for them, which is just what the government wants. 

The State Gov. is already looking for a scape goat....and of course they are going after the utilities.  Instead of the people being more self-reliant and being able to go without power for a few days, the Attorney General is going to conduct an inquiry into why people are without power.  It is really nauseating. 

Oil Lady:

The first day after the storm, which was a sunny and chilly Sunday just 4 days ago, most businesses that even bothered to open were operating on a cash-only basis due to either having no electricity or else no phone lines capable of dialing through to the credit card companies. I went to the Rocky's Hardware Store in West Springfield on that Sunday morning, and I was greeted at the door by an employee who wore a snow cap, gloves, ski jacket, and carrying a flashlight and a clipboard. "I'll take your order," she said to me, "and cash only please." The store was dark except for the the sunlight coming through the front windows of the store. I said I needed flashlights, batteries, and gloves. She said the big flashlights were all gone but the little ones remained. I said that was fine.  She shone her flashlight through the store and asked me to follow her. "Be careful," she warned, fearing I might trip and fall (and sue?). We got to the aisle with the flashlights. She shone her own flashlight all along the merchandise wall. I chose my items and as I made each new selection she used her flashlight to read the item's wall hook where the UPC and the price were listed, and then she hastily wrote down everything on a manual sales slip (and she had IMPECCABLE handwriting). After all my items were selected, she handed me the slip and told me to go to the cash register with it. The row of cash registers were all located at the front of the store by the windows, so plenty of daylight was available for the cashier, the customers, and me to see what was going on with the cash exchanging. The cashier had the cash drawer of her lifeless cash register open and totally exposed. I paid for my items with cash and she had to make the change in her head (which she did just fine). She kept the manually written sales slip that the other employee had filled out, so I had no receipt (I didn't need one).

So many other stores were also just doing the cash only thing. Banks everywhere were closed due to their inability to make computer/phone contact with their data centers, and also due to their inability to activate their anti-theft systems. ATMs everywhere were also down. So if you didn't have cash, you were screwed. 

I was SOOOOO lucky!

I had cashed a paycheck for straight cash just a week earlier, so I had over $400 cash on me all through this crisis. Cash at Starbucks. Cash at Rocky's Hardware. Cash at the Pride Gas Station. Cash everywhere. I lucked out. I had also already done my laundry on Saturday morning, so I had plenty of clean clothes to fall back on, including 5 sets of clean hospital scrubs which I needed for my job as a nursing assistant. In all my travels these part 5 days through various Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, mega-gas stations, and hardware stores, I kept overheating people lament that they had no clean clothes, couldn't use their home washing machines, and couldn't find an open laundro-mat.   

Here is a map showing all the towns and cities of this area. Springfield is the main population center. The City of Westfield is really just an over-sized town which barely qualifies as a city. Same for the City of Chicopee and the City of Holyoke. All three of those smaller cities, (Westfield Chicopee, and Holyoke) are NOT reliant upon Western Massachusetts Electric Company, nor upon Northeast Utilities. Those three smaller cities have always had their own small, local, autonomous electrical utility companies. Those three communities all got their lights back on again in just 24 hours after the Saturday storm. Meanwhile, the rest of Western Massachusetts lingers in darkness while WMECO and NEU struggle with the massive, multi-county grid they they thought they could maintain.   

Here's a population map of Massachusetts. The red area to the West is the Greater Springfield area. 

And here is a link to the WMECO web page where an update of power restoration is given.

Anyway ...

The power came back on for my apartment building yesterday afternoon around 3:30. There are still tens of thousands of households in this area which do not have power. The town of Longmeadow as well s the town of Southwick were both at 100% power outage up until Tuesday. Longmeadow and Southwick are both now down to "just" 80% outage. And the thing about Longmeadow in particular is that Longmeadow is the one town where all the money is around here. That's where the super rich folks live. Southwick and Wilbraham are also high concentrations of wealth, but Longmeadow is the "old money." Longmeadow is where the doctors, lawyers, and the Mayflower Society folks live.  My brother out in Ohio is good friends with a man who lives with his wife and two kids in Longmeadow, and so my brother overnighted a bunch of D-cell batteries to his friend a few days ago (D-cells sold out everywhere by Sunday afternoon). 

The City of Agawam, where I live, is still at about 50% blackout. Another 2 to 3 days remain for getting the rest of Agawam back on line.

The City of West Springfield is also around 50% blackout. They also predict another 2 to 3 days yet for their service to be restored.

Hundreds of electrical workers from all over the USA have come to try and help Westerm Massachusetts Electric Company and Northeast Utilities to get back on line again. The City of West Springfield is housing and feeding all of those volunteers over at the fair grounds located in West Springfield. (The fair grounds are known as the Eastern States Fair Grounds, which is one fair to represent all six of the New England states at once every year. The six states don't have their own state fairs here, each state is too small in this part of the country to justify an individual state fair per state.)

A local abandoned International House of Pancakes in West Springfield which has sat dormant for over a year has been converted into an emergency medical clinic.   

Between my various trips to Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and any given convenience store, I keep overhearing people talking about their need of a shower and their desire to get a generator. I was at Dunkin Donuts this morning and saw a pickup truck in the drive-thru with a brand new generator in the payload. 

I went to a very crowded Wendy's yesterday afternoon for a burger. One of the employees struck up a conversation with me as he was changing the indoor trashcan near my table where I dined. He said he'd never seen it this busy before. "People gotta eat!" he laughed, recognizing that people have no food at home or else no electricity to cook it.

My friend Amber let me shower at her place yesterday, and while I was still there Amber's mother drove in from Springfield to shower as well. Amber's mother works in a sales office, and she said her boss called that day (yesterday) to say the sales office will finally be open the next morning (which will be this morning) only because they got their hands on a generator. She said the boss said the generator can only carry the load of the computers and phones, and that the heat will be sparse, so dress warmly, bring gloves and hats and he would provide hot coffee. 

The fallen trees and fallen branches have mostly been cleared from all the streets. But they are now stacked up along the sides of the roads and on people's front lawns. Every lawn has a neat (or not so neat) stack of tree limbs on it. The sound of chainsawns echoes everywhere. I see dump trucks and flatbed trucks hauling loads of tree branches =--branches still mostly covered with withering green leaves.

Schools everywhere are STILL closed, even though the power is back on for most of the school buildings. The school boards have all decided to keep the schools closed because the buses can't quite navigate the streets where some power lines are still down and where MANY trees continue to compromised the corridors where larger vehicles still can't quite navigate. And then there are the sidewalks --those schools where kids must walk to school are serviced by their respective networks of sidewalks which at the moment are buried under the tree branches that were so hastily dragged off the roads.  So until the children can safely get to and from school, no schools will be allowed to open.   

The gas lines have pretty much disappeared. Enough people topped off their tanks during those long gas lines from earlier this week, and enough additional gas stations have been restored to power again, so no more hour-long waits for gasoline with 25-car lines anymore.

I work in a nursing home at night but I do home health aid/visiting nurse work during the day. Most of my clients have cancelled my services this week because they have gone to the homes of relatives where there is power. So my days are now free. (Which is good because I am getting ready to move so I have opportunity to pack.) My friend Amber also works in a nursing home (a different one in a different town than my own place of employment). She says the backup generator only had 2 days of diesel and then it ran out. They were then operating in a crisis because that meant people's oxygen machines were no longer working. They had to get an emergency shipment of diesel to replenish their supply. Trying to get their diesel prioritized wasn't as easy as they thought. They assumed "We're a nursing home so we have to be given priority. The law says so." But the theoretical priority supposedly meant for medical facilities was a nice thought that only worked on paper in this particular situation. The truth is that the laws written to mandate diesel priorities for medical facilities did not take into account just how widespread this particular emergency would prove to be. The geographic area impacted by this disaster is just too wide. The number of diesel vendors is just too few. And the delivery system known as "just in time trucking" or "JIT trucking" means that diesel inventories all over this region were not high enough (not in October) to accommodate a sudden demand from so many emergency backup generators.  The nursing home eventually did get their emergency diesel shipment, but Amber says the heat in the building has been turned down to conserve the diesel, and that she and all her coworkers are working whiled wearing their jackets and gloves. And the elderly residents are practically in tears due to the cold they are suffering through.  Amber said they are just piling blankets onto all the residents.

Amber was never without power through this whole ordeal. She was in a lucky spot on the electrical grid. She lives in a quiet condo community with assigned parking spaces, and I have visited her there many times in the past. Finding parking at her place in the "visitor" parking spaces was never a problem. But this week, when I drove to see her, the streets of her condo community were tightly packed with parked cars. I had never seen that many parked cars in her community before. Some cars were illegally parked in front of hyrants and aprtially blocking sidewalks and driveways. I believe those excess cars were friends and relatives of condos residents who were all begging for showers and a warm place to sleep. 

I keep hearing about people dying from carbon monoxide poisoning due to either ineptly installing a hastily bought generator, or else being foolish enough to bring a hibachi into their house for heat. So far at least 5 people have died from CO poisoning.

Local stores have sold out of the following:

D-cell batteries
long underwear
granola bars
bottled water

The big 18-wheel tractor trailers are all delivering what they can, when they can. But we are not the only region impacted by this emergency. The crisis stretches from New Jersey to Maine. And Connecticut is the hardest hit as well as the slowest to recover. Connecticut's ability to get the lights back on again is running at a glacial pace. The population concentration found in the impact zone (the entire Northeast USA) is the biggest problem. There are just too many people here, and too many of them are urban/suburban grasshoppers who have spent their whole lives relying upon the systems in place around them. 

The more nestled you are in an industrialized, modernized, metropolitan rendering of civilization, the more complacent you grow in the self-deception that your systems of support (electricity, convenience stores, diesel shipments, etc) can't possibly be compromised, or at least not for very long.

As I type this post, I am watching the news. There is anger among a lot of residents. And legislators are fielding these angry phone calls, and to appease their angry constituents, those legislators are proposing with much indignation that utility companies be held accountable for all this. [As if utilty companies are responsible for the two flukes of nature whereby a) the leaves were all quite strangely still on the trees on October 29, and b) a once-per-500 years Nor'easter dumped over a foot of snow on the entire region while those leaves were still on the tress.] Nowhere do I see outcries of "We need to educate people on how to be more self-sufficient!"  And far be it from the utility companies to propose that there be a greater push for a greater number of businesses and households to have their own emergency backup generators. 

I'll try and bring  new updates to this thread as I come across them. And anyone else here in the Northeastern USA who has stuff to add, by all means add.


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