Wednesday October 31, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Hurricane Sandy's strong winds downed trees and power lines when it gusted through the Berkshires on Monday night, but the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been.

Emergency management off icials characterized the damage as minimal in the county.

"They were predicting the worst," said Ed McCormick, the emergency management or fire coordinator for four South Coun ty towns. "I've seen many storms that were worse than this.

"They did a pretty good job of predicting this days ahead of time," he said.

Indeed Sandy's impact was worse in areas of New York City, New Jersey and Conn ecticut, where the super storm caused dozens of deaths and property damage estimated in the billions of dollars.

High winds buffeted trees and limbs, many of which fell on utility lines and knocked out power. As of 9 p.m. Tuesday, the Berkshires' two electricity providers reported more than 5,000 homes and businesses were still in the dark. Western Massachusetts Electric Co. had 3,007 customers without power; National Grid was trying to get 2,061 cusotmers back on line.

Rain was minimal throughout most of Berkshire County with the most rain -- 1.6 inches -- falling in Savoy, according to the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y.

No local injuries were reported as a result of the storm.

The main culprit in Berkshire County was the wind. The National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., reported a 77 mph wind gust in Hancock, a 61 mph gust in Otis, and a 58 mph gust at Pittsfield Municipal Airport, according to meteorologist Vasil Kolecy.

Aaron Robb, left, who lives at 376 North St. in Dalton, looks at a tree that hit his house during Monday night’s storm.
Aaron Robb, left, who lives at 376 North St. in Dalton, looks at a tree that hit his house during Monday night’s storm. (Ben Garver/ Berkshire Eagle Staff)

At one point Tuesday, all 176 National Grid customers in the town of Mount Washington were still without power , while WMECO reported 100 percent power loss in Washington and Cheshire. Savoy, Windsor Hinsdale, Becket and Otis were once in the 40 percent to 70 percent blackout range.

WMECO spokeswoman Pri s cilla Ress said the hilltowns were particularly hard hit, and that restoration efforts were being hampered in those areas by the number of downed trees and wires that crews encountered between utility poles.

Ress said WMECO expects power to be restored to 99 percent of its customers by tonight. National Grid spokeswoman Charlotte McCormack declined to provide a specific time table for when power to all of its customers would be restored.

"We're still very heavily involved in dual damage assessment and restoration mode," McCormack said.

Wind damaged roofs on both the Founders Inn at Cranwell Resort in Lenox and the Union Building on the corner of Main Street and Flansburgh Avenue in Dalton.

At Cranwell, the tar paper roof at the Founders Inn was partially blown off, causing $40,000 in damages, according to Lenox Fire Chief Daniel Clifford.

"The occupants thought the building was collapsing on them," Clifford said.

Part of the roof on the Union Building was blown away, leading the town's building inspector to close offices that are located on the third floor, said Dalton Police Chief Jeffrey Coe.

Fallen debris caused authorities to close Washington Mountain Road near Buck steep Manor in Wash ington, and New Windsor and Middle field roads in Hinsdale, along with several smaller streets in other communities.

The Berkshires received more wind than rain from Sandy because the area was on the eastern side of the storm when it made landfall in New Jersey on Monday night.

"We knew ahead of time that it was tracking toward the New Jersey coast, and we knew that if it took that route we would be on the right-hand side of the storm, which would be more of a wind event for this area," Kolecy said.

"We did see some strong wind gusts, but thankfully they were not as strong as they could have been," he added.

In Pittsfield, emergency managers met with Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi on Tuesday morning to assess the damage and review cleanup efforts. According to the mayor's office, almost 20 trees fell during the storm.

Robert Czerwinski, the city's fire chief and emergency management director, said trees fell on houses at 30 Westwood Road and 156 Chapel St., while a tree that took down electrical wires on Paul Avenue damaged a truck. Wires were reported down on Sheffield Street, Hancock Road, Harwich Street, Holmes Road, Valentine Road and near Jimmy's Restaurant on West Housatonic Street.

"The city came through pretty unscathed," Czerwinski said. "At the department meeting this morning, we were pretty happy about the limited amount of damage that occurred."

The city received 42 calls for assistance through Monday night, with all but six storm-related.

Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas N. Bowler said approximately 800 calls were received at the Sheriff's Department Communications Center in Pittsfield. High winds compromised communications towers on Oak Hill and Lenox Mountain on Monday night, but employees handled the problems.

In Dalton, Coe said large trees fell on a handful of houses on North Street and Tower Road, while a tree fell onto a garage on Flansburgh Avenue.

In Hinsdale, a tree landed on a garage on Middlefield Road, said Officer-In-Charge Nancy Daniels. The center of town lost power, while sheds and trampolines were blown into neighbor's yards. Although no injuries were reported, a few residents who needed to be protected were taken to the town's fire station.

"We've got quite a bit of a cleanup here," Daniels said.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224.



After the storm ...

Tips for Pittsfield residents with tree debris:

  • Highway Department crews will take downed limbs and branches from private property, if the debris is pulled to the yard's tree line. 
  •  Crews will begin canvassing the city, quadrant-by-quadrant, for one week beginning on Thursday.
  • The mayor's office will announce each day what section of the city crews will be canvassing.
  • Property owners can also cut branches and limbs into 4-foot sections, place them in bundles, and leave them for municipal trash pickup.
  • Fallen trees on private property must be handled by private contractors.

Safety reminders from WMECO:

  • Assume that downed power lines are always live. Do not go near them, or drive over them.
  • Those using generators should follow all safety precautions and be sure that the machines are ventilated properly.
  • Cellphone users should make sure to save their power.
  • Food will keep in refrigerators for 6 to 9 hours, and in freezers between 36 and 48 hours. It will help to minimize the amount of times the door is opened.
  •  Information on emergency disaster services, including shelters, can be obtained from the American Red Cross at 800-733-2767 (800-RED-CROSS) or online at www.redcross.org.