We were slammed

Grid hopes to fully restore power by this afternoon

John Howell
Posted 8/6/15

It lasted barely a half hour, but in 30 minutes a severe storm left more damage in its wake early Tuesday morning than blizzards and hurricanes of recent memory.

And more than anywhere else, the …

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We were slammed

Grid hopes to fully restore power by this afternoon


It lasted barely a half hour, but in 30 minutes a severe storm left more damage in its wake early Tuesday morning than blizzards and hurricanes of recent memory.

And more than anywhere else, the storm’s intensity focused on Warwick and Cranston.

The distant rumbling of thunder was the only warning, and then suddenly, at about 6:15, the skies darkened, lightning spikes danced, sheets of rain beat down and winds ripped branches from trees while uprooting others.

“I felt the house shake like an earthquake,” said Kathy Nichols, standing outside of her father’s home on West Shore Road.

The scene before her was apocalyptical, yet amazingly serene. The giant maple that had stood sentry for decades – maybe a century – in the front yard had been pulled from the ground. It lay across West Shore Road, only a few feet from Tech 911, the bright blue building at the corner of Blake Street. Downed wires snaked across the yard and the street. A utility pole, snapped at its base, was somewhere under all the debris.

Yet the clouds were lifting. There was blue sky. The sun was shining. It looked to be a perfect summer day.

Kathy’s father, Cesar Agrinzones, was at the window when the wind struck. He saw the top of the tree topple and then, to his astonishment, the tree appeared to lift off the ground before hitting the road.

The scene was repeated again and again with not such fortunate results for many. The Governor Francis Farms, Hoxsie and Conimicut sections of Warwick looked to have gotten the worst of it. Trees were not only across roads but also through the roofs of houses, on top of cars and through fences. Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt.

Sue Hart, who lives on Leigh Street, was one of the less fortunate. She was returning from a neighbor’s house where she had been keeping an eye on the family dog. Her sister, Lin, was inside taking a shower and getting ready to go to work. It was then that the giant pine beside her front fence cracked about four feet up from the base of the trunk, sending the rest of the tree crashing squarely across the roof.

It was like the storm and its string of macrobursts targeted a couple of blocks. On parallel Wayne Street, an oak crashed down on a house, and just six houses away from the Harts a falling tree caught in the branches of another, perilously leaning over the roof of that house.

According to Alan Dunham, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Taunton, Mass. office, storm damage was caused by unusually severe thunderstorms.

 “The storm caused straight line wind damage in the area. We’re calling the Rhode Island event a macroburst,” he said.

Thunderstorms can produce intense downdrafts that will create destructive winds on the ground. Cold air descends from the middle and upper levels of a storm, and as the air strikes the ground it begins to roll and is compressed, causing wind speeds to increase dramatically. These winds may be more powerful than a tornado; however, the difference between the two is that wind flows into a tornado and out from a downburst.

Debris is usually lain out in straight lines, parallel to the outward wind flow. Depending on their size, these drafts may be referred to as microbursts or macrobursts. A macroburst is typically more than 2.5 miles in diameter and can produce winds as high as 165 miles per hour, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Avedisian said yesterday the city building department found that three Greenwood homes had been lifted off their foundations by the storm’s force.

Tuesday morning, Sue Hart yelled to her sister, “Are you all right?”

Lin beat a hasty retreat. Sue called 911, but she got a busy signal. She said she didn’t get through until about 45 minutes later. No one could be reached for comment yesterday at the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety that manages 911.

Tuesday morning lines were jammed. Building fire and burglar alarms sounded. The police and fire departments were on overload. And it wasn’t long after that highway crews were swamped with calls, too.

Nearly 12 hours later, the scene at the Hart house was virtually unchanged. Sue and Lin were sitting in lawn chairs in the shade of a shed. They had been able to reach their insurance agent, National Grid and a tree contractor. But nobody had shown up.

In the case of Sue Hart and others who took direct hits from the storm, as homeowner she is responsible for removing the tree from her property.

The devastation was so widespread that it seemed it would be days, if not weeks, before things returned to normal.

West Shore Road at Blake Street wasn’t open to traffic until Tuesday night after a Verizon crew replaced the downed utility pole and strung wires.

Little had changed in many sections of Governor Francis, a full 24 hours after the storm. A number of streets remained blocked by trees and wires yesterday and, despite the buzz of chainsaws, restoration of power seemed a remote possibility, although Mayor Scott Avedisian said all available crews from the Department of Public Works, Water and Sewer departments were on the job. He said two crews worked through the night Tuesday in an effort to clear trees and limbs so that National Grid could follow with line work.

Avedisian said the devastation he’s seen is bad but not quite as severe as what he saw in Cowesett in the wake of a hurricane. He said that the Warwick Sewer Authority issued a “code red” to homeowners who have electrically-powered grinder pumps to reduce water usage. He said Wednesday morning that if power isn’t restored to areas dependent on the pumps shortly, the city would initiate a secondary means of serving these customers.

As of Wednesday afternoon, National Grid projected that at the latest power to all sections of the city would be fully restored by this afternoon.

Yesterday afternoon, Lewis Tree Service, which National Grid contracts for all their tree work, was staged in the Ocean State Job parking lot on Warwick Avenue. Crews were preparing an all -ut assault on Governor Francis Farms.

Supervisor Ed Cartier of Warwick said what he found in Governor Francis Farms is the worst of conditions he’s encountered in 26 years of working for the company.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. Cartier said 30 to 35 two-man crews were prepared to clear away trees, enabling electric crews to do their job.

A block away at John Brown Francis School a pool of reporters accompanied by Avedisian, Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono, Senator Michael McCaffrey and Rep. Joseph McNamara and Timothy Horan, president of National Grid in Rhode Island, awaited the arrival of Gov. Gina Raimondo for a walking tour of the neighborhood. Horan reported the company was making headway in restoring power and that the number of Warwick customers without electricity had declined from a peak of 31,000 to 13,000 as of yesterday at 1 p.m.

Avedisian said city crews would pickup brush brought to the curbside, reminding people not to push it out in the road.

“We’ll try to get it up as much as we can,” he vowed.

Colantuono likened the conditions in Governor Francis Farm to a “war zone.” He imagined it would be some time before conditions returned to normal.

McCaffrey, who lives in the Hoxsie section on Twin Oak Drive, observed, “It’s no longer Twin Oak Drive. The oaks are gone.”

Tuesday morning, however, the expectation that everything would be running smoothly by noon that day ran high. In fact, more than a few were irritated by the inconvenience.

Greta Saint Leger, who was riding the bus to work, feared she would be late when RIPTA driver Jules Romain pulled the vehicle to the side of West Shore Road and got out. She questioned why he couldn’t just drive around the block and circumvent that section of West Shore Road. Romain wasn’t about to attempt it, fearing he might get stuck on narrow streets and unable to turn.

Saint Leger hitched a ride to Saint Elizabeth Terrace, where she is the administrative assistant. Had she sought to go much further on Warwick Neck Avenue, however, she would have had problems. At the intersection of Blackstone Avenue, a giant beech blocked the road with a contingent of Warwick Country Club employees stuck on one side and residents looking to get off the neck on the other.

“It was just raining,” Nichole Bergeron, who works in the club office, said, describing conditions when she left her Burrillville home. “As I got closer it was like a hurricane, but no trees were down until I got to this road.”

Assistant tennis pro Greg Sherwin was coming from the opposite direction. He lives in West Kingston. His trip was uneventful, in fact, faster than usual.

“The whole way was clear,” he said, describing how without a single traffic signal to stop him, he made it in good time.

Time was also on the mind of Warwick Neck resident Bill Nixon. He didn’t want to miss an early morning doctor’s appointment and a scheduled stress test. He was subjected to stress sooner than he imagined when he looked out the window to see a tree across the back of his brand new $90,000 Jaguar. Leaving the scene, Nixon took another car to keep his appointment, only to discover the doctor’s office was without power and he couldn’t perform the test.

(With reports from Tim Forsberg)


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  • Justanidiot

    I wish the General Assembly would pass a law outlawing bad weather for Rhode Island. It would make things much more economically viable.

    Saturday, August 8, 2015 Report this