Nearly 20,000 awaken to blackout in Northern Berkshire


ADAMS -- Nearly 20,000 customers in Northern Berkshire were left in the dark for about seven hours, shutting off traffic lights, closing schools and keeping storefronts darkened well into the daylight hours.

Morning routines were disrupted as dozens up dozens of vehicles pulled up to their usual spots -- Dunkin' Donuts, Cumberland Farms, Daily Grind among other convenience stores and cafes -- only to find the coffee pots off.

Joanne DeRose didn't get her coffee either Friday morning. It was around 3:30 a.m. when DeRose, community and customer manager for the National Grid office in North Adams, got the initial call about an outage. From that point on, her phone and email alerts were going off constantly.

According to National Grid spokesperson Chris Milligan, the outage ultimately affected 19,616 customers in Adams, North Adams, Williamstown, Clarksburg, Cheshire, Hancock and Florida.

Initially, DeRose said that workers hoped to have power restored by 8 a.m., but the extent of the damage was more troublesome to repair than they had thought. She also said most of the substations in the region are manual versus automated, meaning things can't just be fixed by the flick of a switch. By 10:15 a.m., service had begun to be restored.

"We've never had an outage like that," said Noel Bostwick, who has lived near downtown North Adams for several years. Like many people, she went outside to chat with some friends versus hanging out in a dark house.

She said she was up in the middle of the night when she realized the power was out in the city. Throughout the morning, she heard rumors of it being caused by a lightning strike or some sort of explosion.

The origin of the outage, according to Milligan, was around a circuit breaker switch located at the power substation on Zylonite Station Road in Adams. It abuts Holland Company Inc. along Route 8, and feeds power to surrounding towns. Milligan said an equipment failure caused a small blast and subsequent fire, which was contained to the breaker container.

Michael Guertin said he lives near the site and that he and his neighbors were awake when the incident occurred. He said the weather seemed pretty clear at the time.

"All we saw was a green flash. We didn't know if it was lightning or an explosion or whatnot," he said. "All we heard after that was a big boom."

And after that, he said, the building he lives in "was completely dark."

North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio said the early hour of the outage helped his department prepare to manage the daylight commuter traffic.

"Thankfully, if it had to happen, 3 a.m. is the quietest time in the city," he said.

The police department kept its night shift on and brought in day shift personnel a little earlier and assigned officers to main intersections to help direct traffic while the stop lights were shut down. The city of North Adams also utilized its CodeRED emergency notification system.

"We did realize the phones were down but social media worked for us," said Cozzaglio, noting that most people still had battery power to use their mobile phones and other Internet enabled devices.

The North Adams Police Department, Mayor Richard Alcombright and various city councilors posted updates and messages on their own websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, which was scheduled to have a half day, canceled classes. Though other Northern Berkshire school districts initially called for a two-hour delay, they also ended up canceling classes for the day.

Drury High School in North Adams and Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School have postponed the Advanced Placement (AP) exams scheduled for Friday to Wednesday, May 21.

Cozzaglio said area cellphone service was disrupted during the incident. An officer from the Adams Police Department said the outage sparked a flurry of calls from concerned citizens, and also triggered some alarms. Neither these departments nor state police cited any major incidents or accidents due to the outage.

The power outage did trigger the fire alarm system at the North Adams Public Library, causing its reserve tanks to fill up with water in anticipation of a fire. The library had to delay its opening until around 2 p.m., so that the tanks could be safely drained.

The widespread outage also affected water pressure in Adams due to minimized power to the town's pump station, according to a CodeRED message dispatched from Town Administrator Jonathan Butler.

Another inconvenience caused by the outage was the lack of places being open to feed folks' morning coffee cravings. One Facebook post indicated that people from Northern Berkshire were driving to Starbucks in Pittsfield to get their caffeine fix.

"Creating a coffee emergency at Pownal Stewart's I hear," Donna LaCosse Sherman posted on The Eagle's Facebook page.

Cathy Foster finally got her morning cup of Joe over at the Big Y supermarket in North Adams. "There about the only ones in town who have it right now," she said, enjoying it while sitting on a bench along Main Street.

She said she "wasn't too worried" about the outage, but "didn't think it would take that long" to restore power.

Both spokespeople from National Grid and area emergency responders said they will be analyzing their respective responses to see how things can be improved.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions