Blizzard buries island
A fierce winter storm blew through Jamestown over the weekend, leaving behind just under 20 inches of snow and causing widespread power outages. The snow began Friday morning, and by night wind gusts of up to 80 mph were wrecking havoc on the island.
Mackerel Cove was once again battered as it was by Hurricane Sandy in October. Four utility poles were knocked over by the wind, and until the area could be cleared, Beavertail was cut off from the rest of the island. A portion of the sand that was waiting in piles to replace the beach lost during Sandy was blown away by the blizzard.
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said that the overall response to the storm by the Public Works, Police, Fire and EMS departments was outstanding. Crews worked around the clock to make sure that roads were as clear as possible given the rate of snowfall. Many trees fell, triggering the town to hire outside contractors to clear the debris so that emergency vehicles and residents wouldn’t be impeded.
Keiser said that he was satisfied with the National Grid response. Working with police, National Grid representatives were able to determine what cir- cuits were down and prioritize its crews accordingly. He was most impressed, given the scale of the job, with the replacement of the utility poles at Mackerel Cove.
“By mid-afternoon Sunday, after getting Verizon onboard, they were able to get those poles back up and connected again,” Keiser said. “The rapid response was truly impressive.”
The town budget contemplates the occurrence of six winter storms for budgetary purposes. The financial impact of the nor’easter was more significant since it occurred on a weekend, meaning overtime pay for public works crews. Although the blizzard was only the second storm of the season to require any cleanup, Keiser said it was equal to two storms in terms of the financial expenditure required. The snow budget also does not include police overtime.
The shelter at Melrose Avenue School opened at noon on Saturday. Red Cross shelter manager Thomas Tighe said about 50 people came to the shelter to get warm and charge cellphone batteries during the day. About 25+ people remained in the shelter on Saturday night, along with about a dozen staff members. The overnight population at the shelter was the highest in the town’s history. The shelter was closed at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Police Chief Ed Mello reported that by 9 a.m. on Tuesday, National Grid told him that 100 percent restoration of power had been achieved on the island. According to Mello, loss of power – as well as heat for many residents – was an overriding concern. He said that a significant effort by the Police and Fire departments helped to get people out of their homes and to the shelter. Police transported approximately 10 people to the shelter, with an additional person brought by EMS.
“It seems like we’re doing this so often at this point that the effort continues to improve,” Mello said of the emergency response. “We made some communication improvements since last time.”
Mello said the overall response of public works employees, police officers, firefighters and shelter volunteers was “remarkable.”
According to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, the Newport Pell Bridge was closed to commercial traffic from 9 p.m. Friday until 5:30 a.m. on Saturday. A gust of more than 90 mph was reported on the bridge on Friday night, and there were multiple gusts in the 70 mph range. Sustained winds in the 40 to 50 mph range were reported. The state Department of Transportation followed suit by restricting commercial traffic on the Jamestown Bridge. Private vehicles were not affected by the ban on either bridge at any time.
Nick DiGiando of Atlantic Lawn & Garden reported that as of Monday, he had plowed about 250 residential and business driveways on the island. He began working Friday night and continued until conditions became unsafe as the result of falling tree limbs. Work resumed after a brief respite and his staff continued cleaning up on Monday. He noted that the maximum impact of the storm appeared to be in the Beavertail area and the north end.
“As a tip for homeowners, I would say to get the lower limbs of their trees pruned off because you can’t get in the driveways as a result of low hanging limbs and busted trees,” DiGiando said.
Scott Sherman of Jamestown Hardware said that his store lost power along with the rest of the island on Friday night and it wasn’t restored until 8 p.m. on Saturday. Fortunately he had a generator in place and was able to keep the store open on Saturday.
“I spent the night here Friday night and opened up at 8 a.m.,” he said. “But because nobody could get to the store, I shut the door and we plowed until noontime and opened up then.”
There was demand at the hardware store for generators, firewood, kindling, lamp oil, candles and shovels. Sherman said the store ran out of some items because a shipment that was scheduled for Friday was unable to get through. It didn’t arrive until Monday. As a result, the store is fully stocked for the next storm.
Maurice Browning, manager of McQuade’s Marketplace, said that his store also had a generator. Unfortunately, the governor linkage mechanism of the generator froze and it could not be started when the power went out. As a result, Mc- Quade’s was without power until Saturday morning when the generator was repaired.
As might be expected, bread was in high demand and the stock became thin. However, there was plenty of milk on hand. Meat in open cases was discarded, as was some of the store’s stock of frozen food. All in all, Browning said that although the store suffered some product loss, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Power was restored by 11 a.m. Sunday. The store had to close for about 30 minutes at that point as a result of problems getting the credit card system functioning. The problem was symptomatic of a larger issue with Cox, as many people were without cable and Internet even when power was restored.