Tuesday October 30, 2012

Wind gusts of up to 60 mph from Hurricane Sandy toppled trees and power lines across the Berkshires on Monday, causing widespread power outages, damaging homes and vehicles and blocking major roadways while crews scrambled to clean up the debris.

The storm also forced several area school districts, including North Adams and Pittsfield, to cancel classes today for the second straight day.

The high winds and occasionally heavy rains were expected to continue through this morning, with some effects lingering through Thursday, according to area forecasters.

Fire crews place a tarp over damaged areas of the roof of the house at 30 Westwood Road in Pittsfield on Monday after a large portion of a tree crashed
Fire crews place a tarp over damaged areas of the roof of the house at 30 Westwood Road in Pittsfield on Monday after a large portion of a tree crashed through it. Given a warning by a neighbor that the tree was about to fall, Kim Esposito rushed into her daughter’s bedroom and safely removed her daughter, Samantha, almost 2, shortly before the tree crashed through the roof. Story, A4 (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

While Monday began quietly, the wind gathered momentum in the afternoon -- a gust of 60 mph was reported in Otis -- and trees and limbs began to sway and snap.

"Since 2 p.m., our guys have been chasing downed wires and downed trees throughout the city," said Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski.

The Esposito family narrowly escaped disaster Monday evening as an old ash tree smashed into the second floor of their Westwood Road home in Pittsfield moments after the mother plucked their toddler from her crib.

About the same time, around 5:40 p.m., a large tree crashed across South Street between Mazzeo's Ristorante and Berkshire Life, closing that section of the main thoroughfare for more than 90 minutes, city police said.

A section of Route 23 west of Main Street in Great Barrington was closed around 4;30 p.m. for about an hour due to downed power lines. The outage briefly affected Fairview Hospital until its backup generator kicked in, according to police.

In Lenox, a guest escaped injury after a tree fell on the roof of Founder Cottage, one of several guest houses at Cranwell Resort. Local fire officials say minor damage was done to the building.

From Savoy to Otis, the high winds and down trees caused numerous power outages, the majority being hilltown customers of Western Massachusetts Electric Com pany. As of 8 p.m., WMECO's website reported 4,700 Berkshire homes and businesses in the dark. Utility officials were unavailable for comment as to when power would be completely restored.

Meanwhile National Grid reported far fewer customers without power at 8 p.m. in its Berkshire Service area. The more than 800 affected were primarily in Sheffield and North Adams.

Utility officials said they were prepared to handle a surge in power interruptions, should they occur because of the storm.

"We will do what we can through the night to maintain power, but crews can't work [up high] when winds are gusting hard," said National Grid spokeswoman, Debbie Drew.

Sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph, with gusts to 55 mph, were expected to continue overnight and begin to diminish by this afternoon, according to the National Weather Service in Albany. As for rainfall, another 1 to 2 inches could fall from showers that will taper off by Thursday night.

Rainfall amounts ranged from one-quarter inch in Pittsfield to 0.55 inches in Savoy by nightfall on Monday.

As predicted, the main impact of the storm was from the wind, with the heaviest rain remaining well to the south and west of the region.

The winds were so intense Monday afternoon, they created foot-high white caps atop Pontoosuc Lake in Pittsfield.

In North County, both North Adams and Adams opened their emergency shelters to accommodate those feeling the hurricane's wrath.

North Adams officials encouraged the residents of Wheel Estates Mobile Home Park to evacuate to St. Elizabeth's Parish Center, fearing their residences were no match against the high winds.

The DeRosambeau family of Apache Drive heeding that warning.

"We used to live in Florida and down there mobile homes are protected from flipping over," Arthur De Rosambeau said Monday afternoon. "The mobile homes up here are just sitting on cement blocks. I tried to shore up the house the best I could before we left."

Other Berkshire communities had their designated shelters on stand by.

"If we need shelter, we'll open Lee Elementary Sch ool," said Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis. "People in need of shelter can call our dispatch center."

New England Newspapers staff writer Jen Huberdeau contributed to this report.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.



Adams: Adams Visitors Center, Hoosac Street.

Hancock: Hancock Shaker Village on West Housatonic Street and Hancock School.*

Lee: Lee Elementary School *

Pittsfield: Reid Middle School. *

Williamstown: Williamstown Elementary School, Church Street.*

* Planned location; will open if needed.