City takes 'furious & quick' hit from storm
It seems that all Rhode Island storms are compared to the macroburst of Aug. 4, 2015, and while this most recent one wasn't quite on that scale, it definitely packed a punch. As of Tuesday morning, 9,000 in Warwick remained without power.
On Monday morning, a group of reporters in their foul weather gear huddled in the blowing mist around Mayor Scott Avedisian and Governor Gina Raimondo on West Shore Road, steps from the home of Michael and Jayne Moriarty.
Traffic flowed on West Shore Road – that wasn’t the case during the macroburst – and a limb from one of the ornamental pear trees blocked the sidewalk. Michael Moriarty said he had no idea the storm that packed gusts of 81 mph at Conimicut Light brought down the limb until his wife mentioned it. Other than that and a few smaller broken branches on his property, the Moriartys escaped unscathed by the fast moving storm that, as of Monday morning, left 145,000 National Grid customers without power.
Many sections of the city were still without power by mid-morning, leaving motorists to fend for themselves at intersections like those at Warwick Avenue and Sandy Lane and Main Avenue and Industrial Drive.
Police Chief Col. Stephen McCartney said calls reporting downed wires and trees picked up by about 10 p.m. Sunday and didn’t taper off until 6 a.m. Monday. He said the first reports came from Potowomut, and he believes Cowesett was probably the worst hit neighborhood. During that timeframe, McCartney said, the department handled 220 calls.
As the chief talked, one of the city’s automated recycling trucks made a stop across the street, prompting a wave from the mayor and the observation that it was business as usual.
That wasn’t entirely the case. Like many schools across the state, Warwick schools were closed. Reportedly, a number of schools were without power.
Fire Chief James McLaughlin reported his department experienced a spike in calls also starting about 10 p.m. Sunday. He noted there were no reports of injuries, “which is a good thing.” He said most of the 75 calls were for downed trees and wires. He estimated trees fell on six homes. With power outages, the department was also faced with a number of fire alarms.
“It was furious but quick,” McLaughlin said of the storm.
According to National Grid spokesman Ted Kresse, at 145,000 outages the storm was “significant,” delivering more of a punch than Superstorm Sandy when 120,000 lost power.
He said crews first directed attention to critical customers, including hospitals, nursing homes and public safety personnel. As of Monday at noon, power had been restored to all but a few nursing homes, he said.
Kresse said complete restoration of power would take several days. He asked for patience, noting that National Grid’s 159 crews would concentrate on those situations where they can restore the most service first.
Those communities hit especially hard in addition to Warwick he listed as South Kingstown, Barrington and Bristol. While the number of outages in Foster at 2,000 was comparatively small to Warwick’s 12,000 as of noon, Kresse pointed out “that’s just about the entire town.”
As Massachusetts had 250,000 customers without power and there were major outages in Connecticut as well, Kresse does not see this as a situation like the macroburst when National Grid was able to call on crews from across the region.
At the West Shore Road press conference, Avedisian cautioned that as soon as the sun comes out, people are going to think everything is okay and back to normal. He said restoration of electrical service is going to take time. Raimondo picked up on his observation.
“You just heard from the mayor, I think what's going to happen is the sun is going to come out, everybody's going to say, 'things are fine,' everyone will come out and it's going to be harder to clean up,” she said. “So obviously, I know you have to go to work, but if you have an ability to stay off the road, do that so folks can do their job. It could be a couple days, though, before everyone is back up with power,” she said.
Ward 7 Councilman Steve McAllister started getting calls before sunrise and surveyed the ward to find Potter Avenue had been hit especially hard. Trees blocked the road, bringing down wires and streetlights. He found one resident clearing the tree that had fallen on his neighbor’s jeep and learned from another that the tree that came down on his house struck the room where his two-year-old was sleeping. Fortunately, there were no injuries.
In his travels, McAllister found the traffic signal at the intersection of Main Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard working but confused motorists creeping. Both the red and the green light were working simultaneously.
First thing Monday morning, Rob Cote checked on his boat at Greenwich Bay Marina to discover what appeared to be random devastation with several boats that had broken free of their moorings or slips on shore and at least one vessel on its side at the dock. His conclusion, those boaters who know how to secure their boats fared well while those who had not taken adequate precautions were not as fortunate.
Department of Public Works Director Richard Crenca started calling in crews at about 10:30 p.m.
“Our primary goal was to open the streets,” he said.
That effort continued well into Monday, and by 2 p.m. Crenca estimated a majority of the roads were open and passable. To further complicate matters, all phone service to public works as well as the rink and pool went down Monday morning. Service had still not been restored as of press time. Crenca urged people to continue calling the department at 738-2003 and, if unable to get through, to email him with particulars at firstname.lastname@example.org. Crenca said crews, which he estimated at a total workforce of 50 to 60, would remain on the job into the evening Monday.
“We’re managing it,” he said, “it won’t be long before they’re [the roads] open and cleaned up.”