Thousands Remain in the Dark

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By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, December 16, 2008

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Rain pelts Hampton Friday morning, yet looks beautiful following an ice storm that caused hundreds of thousands of residents to lose power in New Hampshire and Maine on Thursday night.
[Deb Cram photo]
Roughly 20 percent of Hampton is still without power in the aftermath of Thursday's ice storm that left hundreds of thousands cold and in the dark.

Stephanye Schuyler of Unitil said Monday afternoon there were still 10,725 Seacoast customers without power, a drop from the 35,000 customers reported at the peak of the ice storm on Friday. Of that number, 1,170 customers are from the Hampton/Hampton Falls area and 2,000 were from Seabrook.

As of 4 p.m. on Monday, 136,800 Public Service of New Hampshire customers remained without power due to what the company called the worst ice storm in New Hampshire history. Five hundred tree and line crews are out working to restore power as soon as possible, but due to the sheer magnitude, the PSNH and Unitil officials say it could be another few days before power is restored to all customers.

Hampton Police Chief Jamie Sullivan reported Monday afternoon that 80 percent of the town currently has power.

Areas that were still powerless included the west end of town off Exeter Road and the central area of town including Five Corners.

Sullivan said the biggest complaint the police have received from people impacted is that it has taking this long to restore power.

"People are obviously upset and irate that their power is not up and we have been forwarding those concerns to Unitil," Sullivan said. "Unitil is dealing with wide power outages across their grid area and they are working through them as fast as they can."

Schuyler said it could be days until power is restored to all of its customers. Unitil, she said, conducts its restoration based upon a hierarchy looking at emergency areas first, then determining circuits and major lines that would restore the most number of customers.

"One of the things customers are disconcerted about is that they are not seeing Unitil trucks," Schuyler said. "They are out there, but they are in concentrated areas. It's still going to be a couple of days. We are encouraging people who are cold or hungry to go to a shelter."

Sullivan said the town of Hampton has been operating its Emergency Operations Center since early Friday morning and will continue to do so if there is a need.

"The good news is that we have had no storm related spike in crimes or storm related injuries," Sullivan said.

Police and fire officials have been canvassing the areas still impacted to ensure that everyone is OK. They have been passing out drinking water to those on the west side of town who rely on well water as well as informational pamphlets on where to go for help.

The Hampton police station has been opened as a warming shelter since Friday and those looking for overnight accommodations were directed to go to one of the shelters that have been set up in either Portsmouth or Exeter.

The shelter at Portsmouth High School has since been closed but the Exeter High School shelter at 1 Blue Hawk Drive off Route 27 remains open.

"The decision to not open a shelter at Winnacunnet was made by the Red Cross," Sullivan said. "They made the decision to open up regional shelters due to the lack of available manpower."

Sullivan said his police officers have run into a lot of people who do not want to leave their homes for one reason or another.

Hampton resident Michael Pierce said he's been without power since Thursday evening.

"We've been basically going out during the day to stay warm and bunkering down at night with lots of blankets," Pierce said. "I looked at getting a generator, but then I think 'what if the power comes back on?'"

Officials with Hampton's Public Works Department have removed the majority of the trees and branches from various roads around town, but there are still approximately 25 roads closed in town.

"The streets that are still blocked off are ones with power lines knocked down," Sullivan said. "The power company will need to take care of those."

Sullivan warned residents to stay away from the wires until they are removed.

Schuyler said Unitil currently has a total of 92 utility and tree crews deployed and working around the clock.

She said she has never seen this much damage from a storm.

"I have seen nothing like this. Streets are impassable, poles are broken like match sticks," she said. "One of the most telling things was the emergency broadcast that came across the television and radio last (Sunday) night. Usually it's a test, but this time it wasn't. That's when it really hit home that this is serious."

Beach flooding minor

Emergency officials and beach residents did get a break as coastal flooding during Thursday night's storm was isolated and minimal despite full moon high tides that could have made matters worse.

A number of beach streets experienced minor flooding during Friday morning, including the end of High Street and low areas along Brown Road, but Chief Sullivan said the flooding was nothing out of the ordinary for an unusually high tide. High tide was around 10 a.m. on Friday and again at 10:52 p.m.

Impromptu tourism

Hampton Beach was also largely spared power outages allowing beach hotels and motels to offer rooms to those seeking refuge from their cold and darkened homes.

"Yes, we have electricity," Jennifer Knowles, of the Ashworth by the Sea Hotel, said on Friday morning. Knowles was working the reservation desk and was extremely busy that morning, she said.

Cable was out for most of Friday, but the Ocean Boulevard hotel lost power for only two to three hours early Friday morning, Knowles said.

The Sun & Surf also on Ocean Boulevard was open with power and available rooms, said owner Shamin Usta.

Sections of Route 1 south of the High Street lights in Hampton also had power. The Hampton Falls Inn on Route 1 got power back around 11 a.m. and the calls began coming in for reservations, said Manager Ismail Pethania. "People keep calling and calling," Pethania said on Friday.

— Reporter Jennifer Feals contributed to this report.

Exeter firefighters Brandon Lisowski, left, and Matt Slattery transport Exeter resident Velma Rock to the Red Cross shelter at the Exeter High School Monday morning.
[Deb Cram photo]
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