Storm Plunges Tri-Town Into Darkness

Ask around and people in our area will likely say they’ve never seen anything like it around here – branches lying in piles across the roads, trees barricading streets, telephone poles snapped in half and dangling from above, flaccid wires drooping along the majority of roadsides, and indoor basement swimming pools in just about every home. Orange plastic cones, the flashing red and blue lights of emergency response vehicles, and the yellow flashes coming from utility trucks were the only splashes of color amid the grayness of the sky, rain, and road.

This March 2 storm of high wind gusts and ample rain turned into a days-long disaster of power loss, flooding, cleanup, and school closings – not to mention the stress residents have encountered, often using up precious battery energy to take to social media to air grievances on the slow response by utility companies to make repairs to downed wires.

March of 2018 came in like a lion all right – a lion on the proverbial steroids.

On Friday, the three towns’ police scanners were a constant back and forth between officers and dispatchers, with calls mounting quickly about downed trees and wires blocking roads, and reports of live wires sparking and even catching fire.

By Friday afternoon, a tree had fallen on a house on Parkway Lane in Marion, and trees were blocking main routes and preventing school busses from driving children to their regular stops.

Power was reported out in the center of Rochester, Front Street in Marion, the east side of Marion, sections of Mattapoisett including Mattapoisett Neck Road, and even Route 6 was shut down to traffic. One after the other, residents took to Facebook to report their road’s power outage.

By Friday night, 91% of Rochester and 42% of Mattapoisett were without electricity, and 100% of Marion was in the dark, prompting the Saturday morning opening of Marion’s emergency shelter at Sippican School to provide a warm space for residents to grab a cup of coffee and charge their electronic devices.

By Saturday morning, 91% of Rochester was still without power, with no progress still in Mattapoisett and Marion. A collapsed telephone pole with wire and tree debris had shut down Delano Road in Marion for over 24 hours at that point. The wind was still whipping down the narrow village streets of Marion, which were deserted compared to any typical Saturday when the village is usually bustling with cars and pedestrians – both two- and four-legged.

Anyone who visited the emergency shelter was greeted at the rear entrance of the school by a white donation box lying on its side and the roaring of the emergency generator. Marion Police Chief John Garcia stood by the door to greet residents after a long night of little sleep on a cot inside the police station.

Friday through Friday night and into Saturday was a real ‘you-know-what’ show, said Chief Garcia. To sum the storm up in one word, Garcia called it “devastating.”

The police station lost Internet service for some time, limiting its ability to track the storm and stay on top of storm developments until Comcast was able to set the station up with an Internet generator.

Garcia increased staff on Friday night from one dispatcher at the desk to two and from two officers to seven. Garcia said he and Lieutenant Nighelli even responded to calls themselves. By Saturday at noon, things were finally starting to slow down.

A lot of the time cruisers had to be stationed at various locations just to block off roadways to protect drivers from downed live wires. It wasn’t until later that Eversource was able to provide enough of their own cars to block off dangerous roadways and free up the cruisers for calls reporting trees falling on top of several houses and on cars. The chief said there were no storm-related injuries to report.

“The damage of the trees,” said Garcia, “it was like a full hurricane. The only thing we were spared of was coastal flooding.” Although, he said, in the aftermath of the storm the Fire Department was going door to door assisting with the pumping out of flooded basements, many with a foot or more of water.

According to Marion Fire Chief Brian Jackvony, Marion Fire responded to over an entire two months’ worth of calls between March 2-5 – 213 storm-related calls in total. At one point on Friday, he said, “It was just too dangerous for us to be out there,” and he called off fire department presence at areas such as Point Road and Delano Road out of safety concerns for employees. The Town’s new ambulance was damaged when the doors opened and “were taken by the wind.”

Interim DPW Superintendent Jon Henry said the three departments he oversees – sewer, water, and highway – were affected when a generator would not start up, which also affected communication between the DPW, fire, and police for a spell. The communications system, once it lost its repeaters without power, had to bypass the repeaters in order to maintain communication.

The Highway Department, said Henry, used up 1,000 gallons of diesel with all the vehicle travel involved and had to call for a special delivery by its Plymouth vendor, which took quite some time to respond with more fuel.

In Rochester, according to the Fire Department, firefighters responded to well over 100 calls for service between noon and midnight on Friday. One storm-related non-life-threatening injury was reported on Friday in Rochester. To those who had access, the Rochester Police took to its Facebook page cautioning residents that it could take a while to get the power back on – “[So] settle in with a good book, board games, or whatever people used to do before Netflix,” they suggested.

On Sunday, many were still without power, so with 45% of Marion residents, 41% of Rochester residents, and a number of Eversource customers in Mattapoisett still without power on Monday, Tri-Town schools were canceled for the day.

As of press time on Tuesday, 8% of Rochester was still without electricity, and less than 1% in both Marion and Mattapoisett.

By Jean Perry


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