Sandy misses region, other areas not so fortunate

WESTFIELD – The lights snapped off in areas across the city last night, a harbinger to last Halloween when the whole city saw power outages that lasted days.  However, this time power was restored within a couple of hours.
“We had only small pockets of outages caused by trees and limbs taking down power lines,” Sean Fitzgerald of the Westfield Gas & Electric Department said this morning. “So most people got their power back within a couple of hours. We dodged a major bullet.”
Fitzgerald said the municipal utility learned from the weather events last year, the June 1 tornado, Tropical Storm Irene in August and the Halloween snow storm, and adopted the federal emergency management emergency response operations plan.
“We learned a lot from the Halloween storm, so we had a response team, extra crews from Canada and resources in place,” Fitzgerald said. “We also have 48 linemen from North Carolina responding, but they will be released to assist in other locations.”
“One of the things (WG&E General Manager) Dan Howard did was double the number of crews trimming trees and clearing damaged limbs after the events of last year,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s what kept the outages minimal. We had all of the outages back on line in a three hour window, so good tree trimming made all of the difference.”
The largest outage occurred along the Southwick Road corridor where 250 customers lost power, although outages also occurred in the Long Pond Road and Hampton Ponds area, Hubbard Street and Northwest Road area as well, Fitzgerald said.
Westfield Emergency Management Director Jim Wiggs said this morning residents should still use caution because of the threat of damaged limbs and because motorists will be dealing with rain-slicked leaves that now cover the city’s streets.
“For the most part it’s done,” Wiggs said of Sandy. “We will still get wind gusts of less than 40 miles an hour and rain through the end of the week. Damaged limbs could fall because of the wind.”
“People should take a lesson from this and prepare for the next event, stock up on batteries and flashlights,” Wiggs said.
Batteries, especially “C” and “D” cells, were gone from store and hardware shelves by Saturday as residents scrambled to prepare for Sandy.
Wiggs said residents can get information needed to assemble a home emergency kit at two web sites, ready.gov and redcross.org.
“Water, nonperishable food like energy bars,” he said. “People should not run prescriptions to the end, get a resupply a little early just in case.
“We’re very lucky, so if people can help the people south of us who were a lot less fortunate it would be good. It’s time to be Americans and help those in need,” Wiggs said.
Wiggs said that the city’s emergency operations will most likely stand down later today and go back to normal operations.
Wiggs said that Ed Mello of the Medical Reserve Corps provided breakfast to WG&E line crews and its response team this morning.
Fitzgerald said that meal was “awesome. Those guys were out working in the rain all night, so it was great to have a hot meal. They served eggs, French toast, bacon, potatoes and beverages.”
Mayor Daniel M. Knapik said the city was well prepared for Sandy because of lessons learned in dealing with other recent weather events.
“We fared quite well, dodged a big one and as of 9:15 this morning went back to normal operations,” Knapik said. “We had Public Works crews come in at 5 a.m. to deal with brush and limbs in the roads, but there wasn’t a lot of that.”
Knapik said that local children will be able to participate in Halloween tomorrow night following the aftermath of Sandy, unlike last year when a freak Oct. 29 snowstorm delayed Halloween for nearly a week because of the number of downed power lines and trees.
Knapik said the city has adopted an aggressive tree and limb clearing program which help reduce the impact of Sandy this year.

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