‘It was definitely a historically significant event’
By Jason Starr
Hundreds of Williston homeowners remain without power and water after a high-wind Nor’easter swept through Vermont in the early morning hours Monday, and they are preparing for an uncertain timeframe for service to be restored.
Jenn White lives on Beartown Lane, off South Road. She woke Monday morning to a downed tree in her driveway, no power, and no way to pump up the groundwater her home relies on. She has since been able to run a generator for a few hours a day to accomplish necessities.
“You forget how much you take for granted,” she said.
White has been using bottled water to brush teeth, opening her refrigerator sparingly, using candles for light, and preparing meals without an oven. Keeping her phone charged has also been a challenge.
“You have to strategize,” she said. “It stinks, but it’s definitely do-able.”
Along with about 800 other homeowners in rural Williston, White gets power from the Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC), headquartered in Johnson. As of Wednesday, about 300 VEC-served homes in Williston remained without power.
White said she was told to expect power to be out through Sunday.
VEC crews spent the first two days after the storm assessing the extent of the damage, according to Spokeswoman Andrea Cohen. Cleanup and power restoration accelerated Wednesday with the arrival of a utility crew from Illinois. Work had been hampered by a lack of availability of reinforcements from neighboring utilities, which were busy assessing their own storm damage, Cohen said.
“There were so many areas hit across Vermont and New England,” she said.
The company is being conservative in its response to customers asking when power will be restored.
“We don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver,” Cohen said.
According to National Weather Service Senior Forecaster Peter Banacos, the peak wind gust at 4:30 a.m. Monday was 63 mph at Burlington International Airport, tying the highest recorded wind speed since new wind recording equipment was installed in the mid-1990s. The other 63 mph gust occurred during a July 2012 thunderstorm.
“It definitely was a historically significant event,” Banacos said of Monday’s storm.
There are only two faster wind speeds on record at the airport: a 72 mph gust associated with the “Great Appalachian Storm” in November of 1950, and a 70 mph gust spawned by Hurricane Hazel in October of 1954.
On Monday, the peak gust atop Mount Mansfield was 115 mph, Banacos said.
The three-hour window of sustained high winds made Monday’s storm uniquely damaging.
Green Mountain Power Spokeswoman Dottie Schnure said the Colchester-based utility has never seen such widespread damage to its power delivery system.
“We’ve had major storms before, but this is the most outages at any one time,” she said. “It caused severe damage statewide, all at once.”
About 200 Green Mountain Power customers in Williston were without power after the storm. As of Wednesday, only three outages remained, Schnure said.
The Williston Fire Department reminds residents without power to only run generators outdoors, as they emit carbon monoxide.
“If you run it indoors, it’s very dangerous,” Fire Department Spokesman Prescott Nadeau said.
The fire department is available to provide water to households.
“If people need help, we are absolutely here for them,” Nadeau said.
The University of Vermont Medical Center reported Tuesday that several people have been admitted to the hospital after sustaining serious injuries while clearing debris from the storm.
“If you’re working to remove a tree, be sure that other, possibly unsteady, trees are not leaning on it,” a press release from the medical center advises. “If examining or repairing your roof, use a harness for safety. Be careful of any wires — live wires are extremely dangerous. Most importantly, if you have any question about whether you can or should properly clear debris, call a professional to do the clearing for you.
“It’s so important to put safety first when cleaning up after any storm or weather-related event,” Christina Keating, injury prevention coordinator at the UVM Medical Center, states in the press release.
Also Tuesday, the American Red Cross announced the opening of a shelter at Milton Elementary School.