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County crews ramp up

Recorder/Paul Franz
Turners Falls Fire Fighters Mike Currie and Kyle Cogswell volunteer their time taking US Flags down along Montague City Rd as Sandy rolled into the area Monday.

Recorder/Paul Franz Turners Falls Fire Fighters Mike Currie and Kyle Cogswell volunteer their time taking US Flags down along Montague City Rd as Sandy rolled into the area Monday. Purchase photo reprints »

As the ‘superstorm’ picked up intensity and prepared to make landfall late Monday afternoon in New Jersey, preparations were made to set up a regional emergency shelter at Greenfield Middle School, according to Greenfield Emergency Management Director Robert Strahan. As of 11 a.m., Strahan said, “we’ve pre-staged equipment so we’re ready to go.”

Strahan said that emergency officials are advising that preparations should be made for a “wind and power loss event, not necessarily a rain event” where mass evacuations are expected because of flood conditions. Temperatures are expected to be in the 50s and 60s, with overnight temperatures in the 40s, so the need for establishing an emergency shelter is not seen as imminent.

“Right now, we’re as prepared as we can be, and we’ll be going to emergency response mode as the need arises,” Strahan said.

“The biggest issue we’re expecting is power loss,” said Strahan, with the opening of the town’s Emergency Operations Center “on a limited capacity” at 3 p.m. Monday. “We’ll be watching conditions.”

Because of the expected duration of the storm, at least through today, Strahan said, “We’re not pulling everybody in right away, anticipating that this is going to go on for a long event. That’s why the EOC is opening on a limited capacity. But we’ll have the mechanism in place if we need to ramp up fully, if we start to see conditions change.”

Once a 100-bed regional shelter is opened, under management of the American Red Cross, members of the Franklin County Medical Reserve Corps, the Community Response Team and the Disaster and Animal Response Team will begin working as conditions require, said Nina Anzuoni-Martin, community-based organization coordinator for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

Towns may also set up emergency shelters locally as needed, Martin said, although those will not be staffed by the Red Cross.

“All the emergency managers, fire chiefs and police chiefs have been meeting, some as early as Thursday, and they’re preparing to respond, but it’s hard, because you don’t know what the storm’s going to do,” Anzuoni-Martin said.

Western Massachusetts Electric Co. has brought in 100 additional line crews and 33 additional tree-trimming crews, quadrupling the ranks of the utility to deal with Hurricane Sandy, said spokeswoman Priscilla Ress. In addition to those crews, from Michigan, Oklahoma, Indiana and Tennessee, the utility is expecting 36 crews to head to western Massachusetts from other areas — including other Northeast Utilities service areas — once they become freed up from their responsibilities in those areas.

As of early Monday afternoon, the utility reported scattered power outages in Orange, Amherst, Pelham and Plainfield, as well as a single customer without power in Ashfield.

National Grid, which provides power in eastern and western Franklin County, reported 364 customers without electricity in New Salem.

With winds of up to 30 miles an hour and guts of up to 49 miles an hour expected overnight, tapering down on Tuesday to a maximum of 20 miles an hour and gusts of up to 29 miles an hour, widespread outages were expected around the region, caused by downed trees and limbs.

Reports of those downed trees and wires began coming Monday morning around eastern Franklin County, including a tree that had fallen on a house roof on Holtshire Road in Orange. Trees and tree limbs were also reported on powerlines in Gill and Colrain as the storm moved westward and damaging winds picked up speed.

Thousands of customers had already been reported without power in Northeast Utilities’ territory in southern Connecticut and National Grid’s service area in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

In Gill WMECO was reporting 13 customers without power at 4:30 p.m., but residents with power and internet access may monitor the storm’s impact on the Town of Gill Facebook page, where Town Administrative Assistant was posting road closures and safety information including a detour on Main Road due to a downed powerline.

Historic Deerfield is closed through Wednesday.

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