Halloween postponed for some until power restored

A Central Maine Power Co. linesman works to restore power for residents in Brunswick, Maine on Monday, Oct. 31, 2011.
Pat Wellenbach | AP
A Central Maine Power Co. linesman works to restore power for residents in Brunswick, Maine on Monday, Oct. 31, 2011.
Posted Oct. 31, 2011, at 7:34 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 01, 2011, at 5:36 a.m.
A snowplow truck backs away from a street blocked by downed power lines in North Andover, Mass., Monday, Oct. 31, 2011, in the wake of a storm which dumped as much as 30 inches of wet, heavy snow that snapped trees and power lines, and caused widespread power failures.
Elise Amendola | AP
A snowplow truck backs away from a street blocked by downed power lines in North Andover, Mass., Monday, Oct. 31, 2011, in the wake of a storm which dumped as much as 30 inches of wet, heavy snow that snapped trees and power lines, and caused widespread power failures.
A utility truck makes its way along a rail line that was interrupted by a rare October snowstorm, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011, in Millburn, N.J.
Julio Cortez | AP
A utility truck makes its way along a rail line that was interrupted by a rare October snowstorm, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011, in Millburn, N.J.

WAYLAND, Mass. — Thousands of would-be superheroes, ghosts and witches were waiting to collect Halloween candy and nearly 2 million homes and business across the Northeast were waiting for lights to come back on as cities and towns struggle to recover from an early season snowstorm that snapped branches and tore down power lines.

Many towns asked parents to postpone or cancel Halloween revelry because of snow-clogged sidewalks, slippery surfaces and the possibility of more falling tree limbs. Some urged parents to take children trick-or-treating at malls or organize activities at home with friends.

Ana Cifelli said her daughter, a first-grader going as a cheerleader, and her son, a fourth-grader planning to masquerade as a pirate, will go trick-or-treating Friday.

“They’re OK with it, as long as they know they’re going to get dressed and go later,” said Cifelli, of Nutley, N.J.

But 12-year-old McKenzie Gallasso of South Windsor, Conn., was disappointed when she learned officials in her town were advising families to call off trick-or-treating.

“This year I’ll have to eat candy from my mom,” said Gallasso, who was deciding whether to be a witch or a werewolf.

Snowfall ranging from less than inch in some places to 32 inches in the small town of Peru, Mass., in the Berkshire Mountains, fell from Maryland to Maine over the weekend. For some it was an inconvenience; for others, a disaster.

Authorities blamed the storm for at least 21 deaths, including one in Canada. Most were caused by falling trees, traffic accidents or electrocutions from downed wires.

More than 3 million lost power at some point and utilities had restored electricity to hundreds of thousands by early Tuesday morning. Still, companies said the storm presented an enormous challenge, in part because of a large number of individual outages.

“We have a tremendous amount of work to do throughout the week,” said Michael Wood, a spokesman for an electric utility in Pennsylvania, where more than 200,000 customers were without power late Monday.

To ward off the cold, some families huddled under blankets and winter coats at home while others waited out the crisis in shelters, where meals and sometimes even movies were available. Hundreds of schools were closed Monday because they had no power or travel conditions were too dangerous for students and staff.

“Such a small storm but such a big disaster,” said Marina Shen, who spent Sunday night with her husband and dog at a middle school in Wayland, a Boston suburb of 13,000 where half the homes lost power. Just a few inches fell in Wayland, and most of it had melted by Monday, but overnight temperatures fell below freezing.

“The house is really, really cold. You cannot do anything. It’s so dark, cold,” Shen said. “Here they give us a hot shower.”

In Maine, only York County was left with significant power outages late Monday afternoon, electric utility officials said. Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. and Maine Public Service Co. were able to send crews to Massachusetts to help restore power in that hard-hit state.

At 5 p.m. Monday, Central Maine Power spokesman John Carroll said 7,500 of the company’s customers were without power.

Carroll said York County still had 6,478 residences without power. Other counties where CMP customers were without power included Lincoln with 519, Sagadahoc with 355, Androscoggin with 91, Cumberland with 51, Knox with 28 and Oxford with 10. Franklin and Waldo counties each had one residence without power.

As of 2 p.m. Monday, Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. spokeswoman Susan Faloon said the company had only about 100 scattered outages.

“We did get all of the outages cleared up from the storm,” said Faloon.

The storm packed heavy, wet snow that knocked down trees and tree limbs. The National Weather Service said Acton received 20 inches of snow while Bridgton got more than 17 inches.

Bangor Hydro had about 17,000 customers without power at the height of the storm, said Faloon. CMP reported 20,000 without power on Monday morning.

“There’s still some damage out there,” said Faloon. “Some broken poles that need to be replaced, that sort of thing. It’s not affecting the power, though.”

Because Bangor Hydro has restored power to all of its customers affected by the storm, it is able to aid electric utilities in other states hit hard by the snowstorm.

Faloon said Bangor Hydro is sending 10 crews, and its sister company in Aroostook County, Maine Public Service, is sending two crews to help NSTAR, a Massachusetts-based power company.

NSTAR said in an automated message Monday that crews from as far away as Michigan were on their way to assist. Approximately 46,000 NSTAR customers were still without power as of Monday afternoon. The message said all of NSTAR’s 3,000 employees were fully engaged in the restoration effort.

Carroll said CMP is busy restoring its own customers to power and is unable to send crews to help other states yet.

“We need to get through this evening,” Carroll said. “We’ve been asked to [help], but we’ve been unable to commit to that. We still have customers out.”

Faloon said utility companies put in requests for mutual aid if they need assistance.

“When there’s a storm, you put in your request,” said Faloon. “Utilities take care of their own territory first and then they’ll release crews to help other utilities.”

The storm clobbered many communities still recovering from the flooding two months ago caused by Hurricane Irene, leaving weary homeowners exhausted and demoralized. In areas of New Jersey, residents said they had only been able to return to their homes over the past two weeks. Several families spoke of just having done their first major food shopping since before Irene — food that was quickly rotting in freezers without power.

Dave Sisco’s SUV was parked at an angle in his driveway Monday so a patch of sun fell on his face. He was trying to find a spot warm enough for a nap after a cold sleepless night.

“It’s terrible, very terrible. No power. No gas. Food in the refrigerator is no good. Sleeping in 27 degrees, and we’re still not recovered from the flood, the house is still a wreck. Trees are still down in the backyard, our gazebo is smashed,” said Sisco, a 58-year-old who lives in Pompton Lakes, N.J.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his family were among those who lost power over the weekend.

Christie said he expected 95 percent of the 375,000 customers in New Jersey without electricity to have it back by Thursday.

“I know if you are without power today, Thursday seems like a long time from now,” he said. “I understand that all this information, if you are someone who doesn’t have power, is just talk until the lights go back on and the heat goes back on in your house.”

In New Hampshire, Gov. John Lynch sought an emergency disaster declaration for his state Monday. He said 315,000 homes and businesses were without power at the storm’s peak, making it the third worst in the state’s history.

Utilities in New Hampshire reported late Monday that they had made significant progress in restoring power to tens of thousands of customers.

Some town officials worried the cleanup would stretch depleted budgets to the breaking point.

“There’s no question that most municipal budgets are past bending and into breaking,” said William Steinhaus, the top elected of official in Dutchess County, in New York’s Hudson Valley, which got nearly 2 feet of snow. “Whether it’s fuel money or overtime money or salt and sand material items, those line items are all stretched or broke at this point.”

Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, said the agency spent more than $2 million of its $26 million snow-removal budget on keeping state roads clear during the storm.

Scott Heck, borough manager and public works director for Ringwood, N.J., where hundreds of trees were toppled, said “no communities budget for any kind of storm this early” and the costs would definitely affect his budget.

“Normally you come in and plow the snow, but now you have to plow to get to the trees, clear the trees, come back to do more plowing and then clear away all the debris,” Heck said.

In some places, commuters who were able to get on the roads were forced to hunt for open gas stations after power outages knocked out the pumps. At a 7-Eleven in Hartford, Conn., two dozen cars waited in a line that stretched into the street and disrupted traffic.

“There’s no gas anywhere,” said Debra Palmisano of Plainville, Conn. “It’s like we’re in a war zone. It’s pretty scary, actually.”

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Michael Rubinkam in Allentown, Pa.; Denise Lavoie in Boston; Michael Melia and Stephen Singer in Hartford, Conn.; Frank Eltman in Garden City, N.Y.; Chris Carola in Albany; Beth DeFalco in Trenton, N.J.; and Samantha Henry in Pompton Lakes, N.J.

BDN reporter Alex Barber contributed to this story.

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