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Fierce Nor'easter leaves 500,000 without power

A tree uprooted by high winds overnight Tuesday left Highland Avenue near downtown Cohasset impassable on Wednesday afternoon.
Michael P. Norton
State House News Service
A tree uprooted by high winds overnight Tuesday left Highland Avenue near downtown Cohasset impassable on Wednesday afternoon.

About half a million Massachusetts households, mostly on the South Shore and down onto Cape Cod, remained without power Wednesday afternoon as Gov. Charlie Baker and utility officials warned that restoration efforts could take a few days.

"The storm isn't finished and crews are working to make roadways and other infrastructure safe," Baker said Wednesday afternoon in Scituate, where he met with local officials and briefed the public alongside Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and others. "We certainly saw a ton of that on our way down here and I'm sure that anybody who lives anywhere between sort of Quincy and the end of the Cape can probably not have to go very far to find a really good example of how rough this storm was on their communities."

A strong low-pressure system moved into the region overnight into Wednesday, bringing with it damaging winds and rain. Some parts of Massachusetts, mostly coastal locations like New Bedford and Salem, recorded more than three inches of rain and wind gusts hit a high of 94 miles per hour, recorded in Edgartown at about 4:30 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.

In Scituate, where Baker spoke from Wednesday afternoon, the rain measured only about 1.16 inches but the winds reached as high as 83 mph at about 8:30 a.m., the NWS said.

Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides said utility companies have brought extra crews in from as far away as Canada to help with the restoration of electricity, but she said the "timeline is approximately multi-day" for a systemwide restoration.

Utility crews around the state have been busy removing downed limbs from wires, but cannot safely begin repairs to overhead transmission or service lines until the storm and its winds move further offshore. She said gusts are not projected to drop below the 35 miles per hour threshold until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. Wednesday.

"As soon as those winds come down, as soon as we have sustained winds below 35 miles per hour, crews will be able to go up in the bucket trucks and focus on power restoration efforts," she said. "But right now they're able to get out and really work on the tree clearing on the ground, make sure our roads are getting cleared, downed limbs are getting cleared, so that work is already well underway."

The governor added that while it will be a multi-day process to get everyone's lights back on, "we're not talking about many multi-days, we're talking about something that's going to take a few days to clean up."

National Grid, which had more than 300,000 Massachusetts customers without power at one point Wednesday, said it had restored more than 30 percent of those customers by 3 p.m. The utility said it had more than 2,400 people responding to begin the process of restoring power to Massachusetts and Rhode Island customers.

Eversource CEO Joe Nolan said that his company had more than 280,000 customers without power and more than 1,500 workers dedicated to assisting in the restoration.

Because of the great number of power crews expected to be at work Wednesday evening and overnight into Thursday, Baker asked drivers to be particularly careful on the roads.

"There are going to be a ton of crews out there and they're going to be, in some cases, not all that visible. Hopefully most of the time they'll have flashing lights on their trucks but in some cases, they're going to be working on trees and they may not be as visible to you as you're coming down the street as they might normally be if these trees had lost their leaves earlier," the governor said. "I think it's really important we make sure we give these guys and gals enough room to actually do the work they need to do to clean the trees out, clean the roads up so that we can then get people up into the bucket trucks and get everybody's power back."

Baker and other officials also warned people to treat all downed wires as if they were live wires and to stay away.

"As the light turns into darkness, just be very careful. There are still a lot of trees and leaves covering wires that could be exposed," Polito said.

The storm was expected to bring damaging winds to Massachusetts, but it was not preceded by a public storm preparation briefing or press conference from the governor or the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

MEMA, which is in the early stages of a transition as Director Samantha Phillips steps down effective Friday, did not issue any of the situational awareness statements it typically releases in the run-up to a storm. Baker said Wednesday that the state emergency operations center in Framingham and MEMA's east regional emergency operation center "were activated first thing this morning," after the bulk of the storm's damage had been inflicted.

As power crews work to restore electricity, thousands and thousands of homeowners in Massachusetts are busy assessing what damage the storm did to their homes and properties.

"We encourage property owners to think safety first and to report any claims as soon as possible to begin the recovery process," Frank O'Brien, vice president of state government relations for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, said. "A storm such as this can cause significant damage and claims professionals will be on the ground dedicated to helping families and businesses resolve problems and begin the recovery process."

As the storm continues to move offshore Wednesday night, forecasters at the National Weather Service said calmer, but still not entirely dry, weather would prevail through the weekend.

"Much quieter and mainly dry weather returns Thursday into at least part of Friday. A period of rain is likely overnight Friday into Saturday," the agency said. "Dry and seasonable conditions return for Halloween Sunday and the start of November."