Day 7: A Long, Cold Wait
Pressure Mounts With Snow Set to Fall
By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, December 19, 2008
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Deb Cram photo]
HAMPTON -- While Unitil promised the majority of residents in town would have power back by Wednesday night, hundreds remained in the dark Thursday night angering many.
"Their response is terrible," Town Manager Fred Welch said of Unitil. "We got poles down that haven't been reset and we are looking at a foot of snow coming in. They got wires down. Hundreds are still without power going on Day 7."
Unitil reported on Thursday afternoon that there were more than 100 without power in Hampton, 675 in Hampton Falls and 900 in Seabrook.
According to a release issued by Public Service of New Hampshire at 11:45 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, more than 86 percent of PSNH customers affected by the storm have been restored since outages peaked on Dec. 12 at 322,000. As of Thursday morning, more than 725 line and tree-trimming crews were on the ground to restore power to about PSNH customers still without electric service. As of Thursday afternoon Doris Burke of PSNH said 40,000 customers are left without power, 2,300 of which are on the Seacoast.
The numbers have dwindled since the Dec. 11 ice storm, which at one point had hundreds of thousands without power in New Hampshire.
Stephanye Schuyler of Unitil said restoration was scheduled to be complete in New Hampshire Thursday night with the exception of individual services issues.
[Deb Cram photo]
Unitil has faced criticism from residents throughout its service area, including in Stratham where a "clerical error" led to crews being pulled out of town mistakenly believing power had been restored. The National Guard was called to Stratham to aid recovery efforts and to assure no residents were at risk. By Thursday, the National Guard were also sent to Brentwood, another Unitil service area in which many homes remain powerless.
Rachel Grogan of Hampton Falls this week spoke of her frustration with Unitil in her home, which was so cold you could see her breath. Grogan said she still was without an idea of when her power would be back despite calling Unitil five times.
"My son is coming home from college tomorrow after finals and he won't be able to stay here," Grogan said. "My sink is disgusting now because it doesn't drain due to the garbage disposal. We tried sleeping in the old kitchen where the fireplace is and it was too cold. We are running out of wood and are exhausted."
The impact on Grogan is more than her residential life as she works from home as well.
"So right now, I'm out of business," she said.
Grogan's husband, John, said with what humor might be left, "We are going to have some T-shirts made up that says, 'We survived the outage of 08!'"
Welch said he was skeptical Hampton would be fully restored because Thursday afternoon there was only one truck working in town. Areas still impacted include the west side of town and the Island Section of Hampton Beach.
Welch said town officials called the governor's office and the state's Public Utility Commission to complain Wednesday night because it appeared all the Unitil crews vacated the town.
"They were not working at all," Welch said. "They went to Stratham because we sent a cruiser over to find them."
Unitil allegedly miscalculated the number of people without power in Stratham causing officials to be up in arms. While the company estimated there were only 20 homes without power Monday, there really were more than 700 left in the dark.
Welch said a Unitil crew finally returned Wednesday night and was able to turn the power back on for Burgundy Drive, Evergreen Road and Heather Lane in the Glen Hill section of Hampton.
"That power should have been back last Friday," Welch said.
Several residents in the area were frustrated because power in Glen Hill returned last Saturday.
While town officials and residents tried to reach Unitil, they were unable to get through to speak someone to get an update. When someone finally did get through, they were told the company was unaware those streets were without power.
Hampton resident Michael Pierce said he doesn't blame the men and women working to restore the power, but he does blame Unitil. His power was restored Wednesday night.
"I have no use for Unitil because they can't even give us a status on what the hell is going on," Pierce said.
"If you call them, it either doesn't ring, or you get a busy signal," said Betty Smith of Hampton. "Unitil has done a terrible job. I called Hampton Emergency Management, and they said there are 67 streets in Hampton without power. Unitil has been frustrating to no end."
State Rep. Chris Nevins, R-Hampton, said his neighborhood is still powerless and he has not seen one crew.
"When you're one of the last sections in town without power, it's frustrating" Nevins said.
Welch said his office has been bombarded with phone calls with people finally reaching the boiling point.
"I have gone to the point of drafting a warrant article to see if the town wants to investigate having a municipal light department," Welch said. "Take over the lights."
Welch said in his opinion there is no reason why anyone should be without power at this point.
"What they should have done in the 70s when these outages started occurring like this, is put the lines underground," Welch said. "We would just be picking up branches and people would have had power. But they didn't do that."
(Deb Cram contributed to this report.)