Islanders clean up after Hurricane Irene
For 72 hours leading up to the storm’s arrival, state and local officials pleaded with residents to board their windows, stock up on bread and water, and even evacuate the Fort Getty campground. Although the storm was costly to some properties, the 24-plus hours of having no power on Conanicut Island asserted itself as the biggest nuisance.
“I really want to commend Tina Collins, who was acting town administrator, and Acting Police Chief Angela Deneault, who did an absolutely superb job,” Keiser said.
Keiser said that Collins and Deneault – along with Fire Chief Jim Bryer – had a plan organized in the event of a catastrophe. “Between those three folks in particular, the community was well prepared,” Keiser said.
By the time Irene reached Narragansett Bay, it had fallen just weak of the 74 mph needed to be classified as a Category 1 hurricane. Even so, islanders were still without electricity during the entire storm, which began early Sunday morning. Winds gusted upwards of 60 mph accompanied by rain. By late Sunday afternoon, the rain had subsided, but winds continued through the night.
To make the cleanup more convenient for both homeowners and for the Department of Public Works, the town is accepting storm-related debris from residents at the Jamestown Transfer Station on North Main Road. Gray added that the town is asking residents to separate smaller debris like leaves and twigs from larger waste such as brush and limbs. If residents can’t get the debris to the transfer station, the town is hoping that they will place it in “manageable piles” on the curb.
During the peak of the storm – from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday – Gray said that crews worked “basically around the clock” and assisted National Grid to keep the streets safe. “We tried to keep the streets open,” Gray said. “We had crews paired up and we basically just wanted to keep everything to the side of the road during the storm.”
He added, “We had to keep the roads clear because there were a number of cars on the road during the hurricane. A lot of people were out watching the surf at East Ferry.”
Keiser said that it will most likely take “several weeks” before the island is back to pre-Irene conditions. The town has crews scattered around the island cleaning up the debris that was tossed around by Irene’s winds.
Keiser said that the biggest incident to hit the island during the storm was a utility pole on the corner of Racquet Road and Walcott Avenue that snapped when hit by a falling tree. Coincidently, it’s one of many utility poles that hold the main electrical line that powers the island. Keiser said Jamestown would have still lost power regardless of what happened on Aquidneck Island. The transformer that feeds electricity through Newport to Conanicut Island is located in Portsmouth and was damaged. Jamestown gets electricity via an underwater cable from southern Newport.
“I really have to commend having witnessed the swiftness and technical skill applied by National Grid crews to reconstruct that pole and get that pole back into shape so quickly,” Keiser said. He said that within hours of the accident, National Grid had crewmembers there working in the heart of the storm. “It was done by 4 p.m.,” he said. “It was amazing to see them work.”
“It went well and there were no serious problems,” added Gray. “Public Works did a good job to help make everything go smooth, and so did the police and fire departments.” Also, Keiser said that a family of three was relocated to the emergency shelter at Melrose Avenue School. The household members spent the night at the shelter. Keiser said it was was a precautionary measure because one person was an elderly woman.
As for the Police Department, Deneault said that one of the biggest headaches with dealing with potential weather-related disasters is to convince residents to stay indoors. “People just want to take their kids to watch the waves,” she said. “The hardest part for the department is getting people to stay inside.”
Deneault, who lives in Tiverton, packed a bag on Saturday morning and spent the weekend in Jamestown so that she could be available to islanders in the case of an emergency. “I assumed that the bridge would be closed,” she said.
Deneault said that although the Police Department is currently short staffed, she was able to have extra offi cers on duty during the storm. “We’re running really short,” she said. “There were not as many people as I would have liked to have, but it seemed to work pretty well.”
Deneault said that an extra officer was on duty Saturday, and two extra officers were on duty Sunday during the storm. She added that during a storm like Irene, Jamestown breaks into three islands. With water rushing over the streets at Beavertail Road at Mackerel Cove and North Main Road at the Great Creek, Deneault said that its important to place emergency personnel and vehicles on opposite ends of the flooded streets.
According to Keiser, the town was “staffed to the maximum.” Earlier this week, two Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives visited Jamestown to assess the situation following the storm. Keiser said it is possible that the town could qualify for disaster assistance, which would mean that 75 percent of what Jamestown spent directly involved with Irene would be refunded by FEMA.
“I think Jamestown was fortunate compared to other communities,” Keiser said. “We didn’t have power lines down and didn’t have a lot of trees blocking public roadways. I think everyone in the community did well to keep us prepared.”