Powering down
Reader Angel Betit reported 14 inches of snow in Halifax.

Powering down

Higher elevations slammed with damage to electrical grid and an outage that, for some, lasted for days

When Kelly Ross stood outside her South Hill Road home in Jamaica on the night of Nov. 26, she saw something dramatic from the power lines.

“It was a fireworks show,” she said as she prepared coffee for a steady stream of customers at D&K's Jamaica Grocery.

It took four full days from that Monday night for Ross and her boyfriend, Raj Taylor, to get power restored - almost five days later, on Friday, Nov. 30.

Ross and Taylor were two of almost 35,000 customers in Windham County who lost power as the result of heavy, wet snow last week, according to Kristin Kelly, the director of communications for Green Mountain Power.

While the lower elevations got a wintry mix of rain and slush that Monday night and through the day on Tuesday, the higher elevations got snow - and lots of it.

Up on the hill in Windham, pine branches still hung heavy with snow on Friday. Multiple bucket trucks from GMP and Asplundh drove in succession past the Windham Elementary School, which had power restored but had used its backup generator earlier in the week.

Commons reader Brianna H. Harris of Jacksonville reported that it took two hours for her to make her way through 15 or 16 inches of snow to get out of her driveway to work on Tuesday. Angel Betit reported 14 inches in Halifax and more than four days of a power outage.

A challenge to restore power

According to a GMP press release, areas in and around Brattleboro and Wilmington were among the hardest hit.

Kelly told The Commons on Dec. 2 that the utility anticipated problems and had extra personnel in place to respond, but she said the snow created challenges for the quick restoration of power.

“With the wet ground from earlier rains, the 6 inches of snow sticking to branches was just too much for some trees,” she said. “Tall trees outside of our right of ways were falling and taking down lines. And this happened over a widespread area for days.”

“Crews spent much of the first day just cutting through trees to get to key lines to restore power, and in some cases were dodging trees as they fell around them,” Kelly added.

By Saturday, more than 800 line workers and tree trimmers had restored power to 110,000 customers statewide - just in time for more wet snow and ice from another storm, which had affected 252 customers in Windham County by Sunday at noon, she said.

Working remotely without power

As she made her way out of Vermont for a meeting in Massachusetts on Friday, Kaitlin Haskins drove past 17 of those trucks streaming into the most rural parts of Windham County.

Like everyone on Vic Benjamin Road in Newfane, Haskins and her husband, Michael Riley, were hobbled by the storm and its aftermath.

Haskins said that on Tuesday, a day before the town snowplows were able to make it to their home turf, she and Riley were able to ford through a foot of snow in their Subaru and their pickup truck.

But their trip was thwarted when they discovered that “Wardsboro Road to Newfane was blocked off by a downed tree and a whole bunch of downed branches.”

They tried the only other route and eventually made it out through Dover, to Marlboro College, where Riley works as a software developer. There, a generator made it possible to get some work done for her remote job for an agricultural nonprofit in Boston.

“I worked from there on Tuesday afternoon but couldn't even call,” Haskins said. “I don't have cell service out here, so I couldn't even call my colleagues to let them know what was going on.”

Throughout the week, Haskins spent almost every day in Brattleboro with her laptop, bouncing from the Brattleboro Food Co-op café to Mocha Joe's to The Works to Brooks Memorial Library. Along the way, she bumped into numerous other displaced home-office workers unable to work in their homes.

“So it was a really nice social week, actually,” she said.

Although Haskins marvelled at the stillness and beauty of the darkness after the storm, she also said that she and Riley have a new purchase in mind.

“I think after this we're going to get a generator,” she said.

Neighbors helping neighbors

The extended outages brought out neighbors keeping a watchful eye on one another.

Back in Jamaica at the general store, Bob Johnson came through the door and asked Ross and co-worker Duffy Jacobs (who was filling in for her sister, store co-owner Karen Ameden), about the well-being of an elderly neighbor who doesn't drive and whose home is heated with electricity.

Johnson, who lives three miles from the village and was still without power on Friday, was relieved to learn that Town Emergency Coordinator Paul Frazier, also chair of the Selectboard, had driven the neighbor to safety and warmth.

Various townspeople and organizations had posted and shared on Facebook that those without power could come to the store to charge their phones and to check in with Ameden, who had stepped in as a go-between for those with power who were offering warmth, shelter, and wifi to those without.

Reached by phone later, Ameden told The Commons simply that “we have a wonderful community here in Jamaica” - not only the village but the outlying communities of Rawsonville, South Hill, East Jamaica, West Jamaica, and Pikes Falls.

Ameden said that efforts to keep people together via social media intensified in the days after Tropical Storm Irene battered Windham County in 2011.

Now, “anytime something pops up, we put it out there. And it's a good information source for people - and people were offering their homes to people if they needed them.”

“We do try to keep a good pulse on the town and try to keep up with folks,” Amiden said of the store and its role as a hub during days off the grid. It's what she and her coworkers could do.

In Jamaica, she said, “We're small enough that one person can make a huge difference.”

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