Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Night the Power Died -- 70 hours without Heat and Counting

Even my students from China have said that they have never experienced a power outage for as many hours as we are now enduring in parts of Massachusetts (and beyond).

With the snowstorm hitting our area, on Saturday, October 29, and with electric power out around 9:30PM in our Amherst neighborhood that night, we are still without power.

It has been 70 hours.

Our electric power utility, WMECO, is reporting some of the status as to its restoration efforts on its Facebook page, and it looks as though Amherst, which presently has about 40% of households still without power, having to wait as long as until Thursday night to get it back up.

Strangely, WMECO has abandoned the updates on its power outage map, claiming, that the map was incorrect, but, sometimes it still appears. We have taken "shelter" during the day at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst where I teach and have been able to access the Internet from there and to get defrosted.

Today President Obama declared Massachusetts a disaster area:

Here is the complete text from the White House:
The President today declared an emergency exists in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and ordered federal aid to supplement commonwealth and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from a severe storm during the period of October 29-30, 2011.

The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the counties of Berkshire, Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, and Worcester.

Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures, limited to direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding.

W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Mark H. Landry as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.

Tonight is the fourth night that we will be sleeping in our house without any power and the temps have been in the 20s the past several nights.

I give credit to my great students, both undergraduate and graduate, who have managed to come to class despite no heat in many of their apartments, no Internet, and even, since there is no power, no alarm clocks to wake them up.

As I said in today's class, during which we discussed what is happening, it takes extreme measures for these extreme circumstances and the stories that they shared are shocking.

The restoration of the electric power to parts of our town appears to be random and the length of time for the restoration raises serious management questions.

On the other hand, I would like to salute all the workers who have traveled across states and counties to help us during this disaster and to wish them success.

Today, in South Deerfield, where we were passing through in order to be able to take hot showers at Deerfield Academy, where my daughter has literally been boarding since the snowstorm and power outage disaster (and I can't thank Deerfield sufficiently for serving as such a haven during this time), we saw MBTA workers and trucks from eastern Massachusetts assisting the locals in cleanup.

We have crews in Amherst from Michigan, Missouri, and Kansas.