Snow cripples area, thousands without power Falling trees, heavy snow hamper cleanup

A VTel truck passes by a downed tree on power lines along Popple Dungeon Road in Chester Wednesday morning. All photos by The Chester Telegraph.

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Area residents awoke on Tuesday morning to cracking tree limbs and the woosh of heavy snow cascading off those trees and roofs. They also awoke in the dark as hundreds of trees, weighed down by  the wet snow, toppled onto wires and roads and snarled traffic.

Schools throughout southern Vermont were shut on Tuesday with many – including Green Mountain High and Chester-Andover and Cavendish Elementary schools remaining closed on Wednesday. Flood Brook, Mount Holly and Ludlow elementary schools and Black River High were opening on a two-hour delay Wednesday morning.

A power outage in Londonderry caused the Town Office there to close on Wednesday.

Snow removal crews had more than just heavy, hard-to-move snow complicating their work.  According to Chester Road Foreman Graham Kennedy, his crews were plowing roads while trees were still falling.

A tree down on lines along Grafton Road in Chester.

“I’ve been doing this for 29 years and this is the worst storm I’ve seen for that kind of thing,” said Kennedy on Wednesday morning.

The difficulty in plowing made for other troubles, with a town truck going into a ditch on Popple Dungeon Road before 5 a.m. Tuesday followed by the truck that was sent to pull it out. The two trucks blocked the road enough to make extricating them difficult but in the end they were able to free the trucks and get back to road clearing.

Champion Fire Company chief Jeff Duda told The Telegraph on Wednesday that his crews were not called on much during the storm with most of the work being done by town road crews.

“The bulk of South Londonderry is without power,” said Duda. “And there are still roads that haven’t been cleared because of fallen trees.”  Those included Evergreen Lane, Boyton Road, Reilly Road, Brophy Lane, Cobble Ridge Road and Middletown Road.

Downed trees kept the Chester Fire Department in Andover long after the call they were responding to turned out to be a false alarm. According to Fire Chief Matt Wilson, one of the department’s five calls during the storm was for a fire alarm in a North Hill Road home in Andover.

“When you have power go on and off, the surges can set off alarms and you have to go,” said Wilson adding that, once in Andover, firefighters could not find a route home that was not blocked by newly fallen trees. At one point, as firefighters were backing out of the driveway of the false alarm, a maple tree fell next to the engine.

When he realized the crew was trapped in Andover, Wilson notified the dispatcher and asked for Proctorsville and Springfield to automatically respond to calls in Chester until they get free, which was three to four hours later.

When will power return; where to go for help?

The main question at the Jiffy Mart in Chester early on Wednesday morning was “when will the power be restored?” Rumors abounded with Friday and Saturday being among the most frequently spoken, but Green Mountain Power is says they are shooting for sooner for the larger outages.

GMP and Asplundh trucks line up at Country Girl Diner.

While it seemed ominous that there were no Green Mountain Power repair trucks at the popular morning coffee stop, one GMP’s orange bucket trucks and a couple of Asplundh tree trucks were parked at the Country Girl Diner while their crews fueled up for the long day ahead. Later in the morning, Scott Blair at the Main Street Coffee and Scoop Shoppe said a long parade of repair and tree trucks passed through his business at about 8:30 heading west.

On Wednesday morning, Green Mountain Power told Londonderry Emergency coordinator Kevin Beattie that it spent most of yesterday getting trees off of power lines and roads. Beattie said the utility expects to make “significant progress” in restoring power today but that in outlying areas power might not be on until Friday. Londonderry appears to be the hardest hit among area towns in terms of the number of customers without power. A message from Town Office told residents that the widespread outages may continue into Friday, and urged anyone in an emergency to call 911. For non-emergency aid, residents were directed to call Beattie at 802-548-8246.

GMP online outage map.

Beattie said he would be calling a meeting of the local fire chiefs and select board members to see what else the town needs to do in the aftermath of the storm.

In Chester, Town Manager David Pisha urged residents who are having trouble heating their homes to call Town Hall before taking measures to do so. The number is 875-2173.

Executive Assistant Julie Hance said that while Town Hall, the American Legion and Green Mountain High School are all technically “warming shelters,” they aren’t set up as emergency shelters to care for people long term. Currently, the warming shelters haven’t opened because no one has called the town to say they needed one opened. She urged people to call 211 or the Red Cross at  800-660-9130.

Thus far, said Pisha on Wednesday, the town hasn’t received any calls to open a warming shelter. Vermont Emergency Management said residents can call 211 to report current needs so the state can determine the areas of greatest need. They also urged residents to call their town hall.

According to Green Mountain’s Kristin Kelly, at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the number of customers without power for the storm is more than 90,000 with 63,000 of those restored so far but new outages still coming in. Since the beginning of the storm, The Telegraph’s coverage area has seen more than 4,000 customers loose power with more than 2,500 still out as noon approached on Wednesday.

“The big problem is that the storm brought a wet, cement-like snow casing on lines and trees,” said Kelly. “And then overnight it became rock-solid and we are getting more snow. Crews are working in hazardous conditions and widespread, severe damage is still happening.”

Kelly told The Telegraph that GMP had doubled its crews with hundreds of line crew members but that they prioritize the largest outages first to get the most people back on line as soon as possible. According to Kelly, there are 25 two person line crews working in our area. GMP expects the recovery to stretch into Saturday but remote areas and those where the fix is particularly complex could stretch into Sunday.

As of early Wednesday 665 customers were without power in Chester, 264 in Grafton, 376 in Andover, 501 in Weston, 420 in Windham, 961 in Londonderry, 384 in Cavendish, 342 in Ludlow, 15 in Rockingham and 73 in Baltimore.

“Your area might be Ground Zero,” said Kelly.

— Cynthia Prairie contributed to this article.

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  1. Elise Junker says:

    We are lucky to have a generator. The battery pack on our vtel fiber optics service went dead after 8hrs. How do folks call or get on line in remote areas where cells do not work to get help & important information?

  2. M Kunze says:

    We are living in the area currently known as Ground Zero. Not fun when I have to get to work.