Blackout: Power outage zaps power from 29,000 in Hampshire County Wednesday morning

  • Jackson Street School principal Gwen Agna, right, and nurse Rebecca Stewart use flashlights help light the way for fourth-grader Harleigh Vertucci in the darkened halls during a power outage that affected the Northampton school for three hours on Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Massachusetts State Police direct traffic at the exit 19 off ramp of Interstate 91 near the Coolidge bridge in Northampton at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, about an hour after the city and some surrounding towns lost power. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Michael Superson, owner of Big E’s supermarket in Easthampton, talks about how when they closed the store due to the power outage they turned the time into a day of chores cleaning up the parking lot and getting ready for winter. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Donna Geis, owner of The Silver Spoon, in Easthampton, talks about how when they closed the restaurant due to the power outage they turned the time into a staff meeting. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jack Devlin, left, of Northampton and Jim Palermo of Southampton had the skylight-lit lobby of the Northampton Senior Center all to themselves during the power outage that affected the city and surrounding towns on Wednesday GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 11/15/2017 11:07:53 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A widespread blackout enveloped thousands of people throughout Hampshire County Wednesday morning, leading businesses to close or revert to cash-only transactions, forcing police officers to direct traffic at busy intersections, and causing schools to light hallways with flashlights.

The morning blackout began around 9 a.m., causing major disruptions to multiple communities for more than four hours.

The county’s two power companies — National Grid and Eversource — said that sections of Northampton, Easthampton, Southampton, Westhampton, Hadley and Amherst were all affected by the power outages. Other area communities experiencing power loss were Chesterfield, Williamsburg, Goshen, Westfield and Holyoke. In all, some 29,000 customers in Hampshire County were without power during the peak of the outage.

Eversource spokeswoman Priscilla Ress said that of the roughly 12,000 customers who lost power, 7,000 got their it back within about an hour, and all had their power restored by about noon.

Some 17,000 National Grid customers were affected, spokesman Robert Kievra. He said power was restored by 1:10 p.m.

Ress said the company’s utility system is built with protection devices similar to large-scale circuit breakers, which shut down when a problem is detected. That’s what happened Wednesday morning. She said the origin of the problem stemmed from Holyoke Gas & Electric, which did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

When Eversource’s system shut down, that affected a feeder line to a National Grid substation, which lost power, Kievra said.

Paradise City goes dark

Throughout Hampshire County, people had to contend with many of the same options their forbearers in the 1800s utilized — making coffee on a stovetop, air-drying hair and doing transactions by hand.

In Northampton, many businesses closed up shop entirely, including all of the businesses in Thornes Marketplace, according to facilities manager John McGee. Having heard that the power would be returning at 11 a.m., McGee allowed customers to make their way through the darkened hallways of Thornes to the parking garage, and had employees stationed at entrances with flashlights to provide assistance.

Other establishments stayed open.

Haymarket Cafe served people who could pay with cash, using the grill to heat hot water for coffee and tea.

“As long as we have running water ... we’re able to keep it going,” Hilary Talbot, Haymarket’s general manager, said.

Northampton’s Police Department had officers directing traffic at intersections, taking the place of traffic lights affected by the outage. Police Capt. John Cartledge said that the department was dealing with a flood of calls because many alarm systems go off when power is cut.

“It’s mostly alarm calls and traffic type situations,” said Cartledge, who noted that the State Police and people who would be off duty had been called in to help with the volume.

School also continued on; students were not dismissed.

“Students were already in school when power went out,” Northampton Schools Superintendent John Provost said.

When power was lost, an assembly was underway at Jackson Street School that included parents. It was reported to Provost that parents were impressed by the school’s calm and orderly response, a response that was aided by the fact that an outage had occurred there last week.

Despite only being able to offer basic haircuts, as blow drying and coloring were taken off the menu due to lack of power, Changes Salon also kept its doors open, although cash was still the order of the day.

“It’s all I came in for,” said customer Suzanne Love, who said she normally lets her hair air dry anyway.

The Baker’s Pin kitchen supply store was another establishment that soldiered on through a lack of power.

“We’re a kitchen store a week before Thanksgiving,” said owner Lisa Greco.

However, in addition to cash, the store also took checks and credit cards, if customers were comfortable having their credit card numbers written down and processed later. Greco noted that a number of the shop’s customers are longtime patrons.

“They know us. They trust us,” she said.

A serious impact

One woman who was particularly affected by the power outage, as well as the one last week, was Catharine Morrish, a senior citizen who lives in Northampton. Morrish uses a power lift to get up to the second floor of her home, and it stopped working during both outages. Moreover, after power was restored on Wednesday, Morrish’s chair was no longer working.

“The long-term effects of these power outages go on for days after,” she said.

Morrish said that repair people won’t be able to get to her until Friday, and that she will sleep on an air mattress her neighbor put in following the incident until the lift is repaired or replaced.

Morrish had to go down the stairs when the chair wasn’t working, and ended up falling halfway down, injuring herself.

“I’ve never had so many outages,” Morrish said, who also noted another outage about a month ago.

She said that she is considering moving out of her home because of this, as well as legal action against National Grid.


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