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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Residents receive power again just before Christmas Power restored nearly two weeks since storm

From the Eagle Tribune;

Residents receive power again just before Christmas Power restored nearly two weeks since storm
By Margo Sullivan

ATKINSON — Twelve days after the ice storm hit, Donna Cloutier's house remained dark.

"Today has just taken a toll on me," she said yesterday, and not just because she faced another day without heat and electricity. Her Christmas Eve tradition was in jeopardy.

The Atkinson log cabin, which she owns with Barbara Fiore, had been dressed for the holiday with a big tree, a snowman and bundles of presents arranged with a decorator's eye. In 24 hours, she had planned to bring her mother down from Maine for the annual get-together with Fiore's family. Everything was ready — except the lights.

"Today, I had enough," she said. "I was on a mission." She planted a sign in the snow in front of her house.

"Day 12, without power," it said. Then she called the town administrator's office.

At 2:32 p.m., as she was telling her story to a reporter, a knock sounded at the door. A crew from Unitil had finally arrived. "I'm a cynical person," she said. "This is because I made all those calls."

But she eagerly ran down the front steps and moved her Toyota out of the crew's way. Cloutier wasn't angry with the linesmen, she assured them. She was fed up with the lack of communication from the company.

"Every time I got in touch with Unitil," Cloutier said she heard the same story.

"The work's done," the customer service representative would say.

"Right," Cloutier would reply. Of course, the work wasn't done.

"Well, we have to fix a circuit."

Finally, Cloutier blew her own fuse.

"There's no flipping circuit," she said. "Everyone's back. All I need is a line to the pole."

The morning after the storm, which left more than 400,000 New Hampshire households without power, the pole at the corner of her house snapped and sent power lines cascading down 400 feet of her driveway.

"We reported it within 15 minutes of its dropping," she said. Unitil warned her to stay away from the wires, but the company didn't send a truck to repair the damage. It was days before she learned she had to hire her own contractor.

Cloutier had tried everything to get a crew over to her house, at one point even flagging down a utility truck. Extra effort didn't help. The crew told her to move along.

The toughest part about the 12 days in the dark was not sleeping at night. She worried about the generator keeping the neighbors awake. She worried about someone stealing it. She worried the power company forgot about her. It was a familiar story for the thousands who remained without power days after their neighbors had their electricity restored.

As day after day passed without electricity, the anxiety mounted for Adria Durkin of Atkinson. Everyone else on her street had power back — except her. She wondered if the power company had forgotten about her house.

Calls three times a day to Unitil brought the same result. She had to tell her story all over again about how the pole went down in her yard Dec. 11, how her electrician came and fixed it Dec. 14, and how the whole rest of the street had lights Dec. 16, and how she was still in the dark.

Unitil said it would be fixed any day now — "hopefully, tomorrow."

But nothing happened.

"I couldn't focus on anything else," she said. "I was so panicky. I thought, I can't go on one more day. But you do."

On Friday, after eight days in the dark, she started e-mailing from work. She contacted newspapers, the governor's office and the U.S. Senate. The governor's office advised her to call the state Public Utilities Commission. The commission called Unitil directly, and the electric company called her back.

"Hopefully, tomorrow," they said. That was the same answer she had received for days.

"I knew I wasn't the only one without power," Durkin said. But even though she reached the governor's office, Sen. Judd Gregg's office and the PUC, she couldn't get a straight answer from her own electric company.

On they way to pick up her son from school, she flagged down a Unitil truck.

"That is the truck that actually showed up," she said. Her power came back Monday between 7:30 and 8 p.m.

"Was it was my persistence with that commission or that I just happened to find a truck?" Durkin said.

At the height of the ice storm, almost the entire town of Atkinson — 2,900 households — was left in darkness. For Pat Goodridge, who lives in Hemlock Heights, the breaking point came Dec. 13.

"I was distraught," she said. "I hadn't eaten for two days, and I was running out of firewood." Goodridge had never in her life gone to a shelter. But that Saturday, she went to the shelter at Hampstead Middle School.

"I was very well taken care of," she said. "But it was stressful."

She kept a diary about her experiences and penned a thank-you letter to Sandra Ouellet and her class.

"I will always remember Hampstead took me in and allowed me to take refuge in Room 202. I slept there," she said. "I was apprehensive. This is a very scary thing. You know, it's not easy living in a shelter when 500 children are going to arrive," but she thought a letter would be important.

Goodridge took some of the teacher's paper, pens and sticky notes for her letter.

The teacher read Goodridge's letter to the class, and pointed out the metaphors and other figures of speech. She told Goodridge that the students usually grumble about writing. But they liked her letter so much, they could not wait to scribble down their own stories about the storm.

Goodridge stayed in the Hampstead shelter until it closed. Then she moved to the Sanborn Regional High School shelter in Kingston. When that shut down Sunday, Goodridge, 70, drove home in white-out conditions. It was that or drive to Londonderry or the Haverhill, Mass., shelter. A neighbor met her at the bottom of the hill near her house. He told her if her car didn't make it, he would push her the rest of the way. Her electricity is back. One zone of her house has heat. Her dogs are still staying at Carol's Grooming.

"I feel guilty," she said.


Anonymous said...

I'd like to thank the Lions Club for making the shelter in town a great success..

Anonymous said...

Huh? Atkinson didn't have a shelter, it just had a warming center. Not only that, I didn't even know about it until several days later. Residents had to go to Hampstead (myself included) to get real shelter and hot meals.

I am furious that elderly residents were fending for themselves under these conditions. This town needs a better way to deal with problems and a way to check up people during emergencies.

Where was that bonehead police chief during all this? Where were the well being checks?

Anonymous said...

Where was that bonehead police chief during all this? Where were the well being checks?

December 24, 2008 2:51 PM

being done on the people that wrote checks, all the rest were left to fend for themselves. what a guy huh?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like organized extortion!

Anonymous said...

Just as the all the utilities should explain their actions following the storm, it is also becoming apparent that the BOS should review the actions of the Elderly Affairs department.

This was an opportunity for the EA department to shine. If its performance was lacking, it is the duty of the BOS to make the necessary changes.

Anonymous said...

And here it is 11:45 on Christmas Eve and the power is out again. As of 1:00 pm Christmas Day Unitil says, in their message updated at 10:30 am, that power should be back up in 2 hours. Looks like they missed that deadline too. Well my turkey won't be going in the oven if power isn't on soon. All I can say is MERRY CHRISTMAS UNITIL AND THANKS FOR THE GREAT SERVICE AND HARD WORK YOU'VE PROVIDED keeping our lights on. I know they can't control the weather but their company needs to be looked into as to why they can't keep their customers up and running. It took the Tenn. workers to get Atkinson, and I'm sure other towns, back on line. If I sound upset, damn straight. Bah Humbug!

Anonymous said...

UNITIL, the company that has removed the 'I' from their company name. From now on they will be called UNTIL. This seems to be their motto as of late as customers have to wait until a they decide they are going to restore power.

Thank goodness this was not hurricane winds! We would have had major devastation! Sorry for the sarcasm but we have only had power restored for a week and now we are back to this again. This company really needs to be investigated. If they intend on growing their company they should first grow their infrastructure to support the customers.

Anonymous said...

I think a little gratitude is in order for the Unitil employees who left THEIR homes on Christmas day to restore power to YOUR home. How many of you had to work Christmas day?

Anonymous said...

Anon Dec. 26, 4:42 a.m. writes:

"I think a little gratitude is in order for the Unitil employees who left THEIR homes on Christmas day to restore power to YOUR home. How many of you had to work Christmas day?"

Here, here! It's been a while since I've visited this blog due to the ice storm and holidays. It's amazing to me that, even in times of crisis, people can find the time to sit in front of their computer and somehow find ways to complain about the chief and Lewis Builders. Boy this blog has really gone downhill...

Anonymous said...

Hold on cowboy!

The folks that repaired the line yesterday were on call. They are paid to be on call in case of an emergency (which so happened). Moreover, there are many of us that are on call during the holiday time which includes doctors, nurses, police, fire etc.

Did they give up their holiday or did they elect to be on a paid on call basis?

The problem which most are stating here is not with the workers of UNITIL but is the management that UNITIL represents. I think these linesman do an excellent job risking their lives in all sorts of nasty weather; they are craftsman in their trade. However their job is limited based upon the work details given out by the head office whether it is for an emergency repair OR just simple maintenance.

Anonymous said...

I think a little gratitude is in order for the Unitil employees who left THEIR homes on Christmas day to restore power to YOUR home. How many of you had to work Christmas day?

December 26, 2008 4:42 AM

I wonder how many of their families were without power. Seems to me that it seemed to be that the majority of homes without power were UNITIL customers. If I heard correctly, most of the surrounding towns using other power companies had their power. Was it just towns using Unitil affected by the high winds? I don't think so, unless we live in the Bermuda Triangle of freak weather phenomenon. In this economy they have a job, if that job requires you to be on call, so be it. Let them find a M-F, 9-5 job (if they can) that pays as well, if they don't want to be on call to provide the customers what they pay for.

Anonymous said...

If I were getting paid double time + 1/5, I'd be happy to work on the holiday to get people their power back so they can eat Christams dinner. It sounds like a win-win situation for me.

Maybe, they wanted all the extra pay and dragged this thing out.

Anonymous said...

Elderly Affairs did no elderly check. Ask people near you and post if you find any. A copy of the list of elderly needs to be in the hands of someone charged with contacting them in emergency. This winter is just beginning. Like Hampstead we need an emergency coordinator. Why don't we already have one? What about shelter information? I only heard word of mouth. No one died in town? We were lucky this time. Carbon Monoxide could have taken a few. An emergency coordinator could have posted warnings about this. Also keep information available as to shelters. Hampstead Middle School closed and sent people to N. Kingston, then Exeter, then Timberlane, finally Londonderry. How would you like to be shuffled from shelter to shelter every few days? Where was the Atkinson shelter? Would there have been water since HWAC pumps failed? Yeah, we need an emergency coordinator. Why did Hampstead do such a good job and Atkinson so little to protect citizens. Lots of overtime to follow those utility trucks and that fattens pay checks. This town can afford to pay an emergency citizens coordinator who has a committee of volunteers to help out. How many didn't even check on people next door they know? Time to come together and see that a crisis can turn deadly in a hurry.

Anonymous said...

Where was our director of elderly affairs? I always hear him on channel 20 telling us about every little thing he does, why didnt he check on the elderly?

Anonymous said...

I have HAWC and i had water throughout the whole outtage.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous December 27, 2008 6:49 AM

The director was working paid detail behind electric company trucks. He didn't have time for the elderly job those days. To busy making money and flashing those pretty blue lights on his car.

Fishgutz said...

Maybe it is time for flag men in NH too!

I have a family member still in Atkinson. Has a nice 10KW back up generator and good size fuel tank.
Long power outages don't happen often. In fact this is the for time since it was installed that it was on for more than a couple hours at a time.
People need to stop expecting the government at any level to take care of them. Government will always fail under these extreme conditions. It is better to have your own back up plan.
Down here in North Carolina, where we moved to get away from the cold, every closes when they get a little bit of snow. Sometimes they get ice storms that take out power lines. When we buy a home down here we will also have a back system installed. One never knows when mother nature will throw a hissy fit.
As for Phil, he only takes care of one person. Himself. Sometimes, appearing to help others works in his own interest.

Anonymous said...

I disagree Fishgutz, we are paying this dope to run the Elderly Affairs dept and he brags about doing well-being checks and taking care of the elderly. He was no where to be found. Since we pay him, we should be able to rely on him.

Also, I heard in town hall that there were 2 deaths over the first weekend and four house fires on Academy Ave. caused by power surges when Unitil forgot to shut off Atkinson before they turned on Plaistow.

Anonymous said...

HWAC pumps did in! The library had to close and stop is efforts to help out when they had no water. It is a state law as the bathrooms go out. They HAD to close. If HWAC pumps were working then did they just not pump to the library? Check with the library as I heard this from several people.

Anonymous said...

The selectmen. Did they help out their neighbors personally? I would love to hear some wonderful and positive stories about how they reacted to helping their friends and neighbors. I would like to hear any stories about people who went out of their way to help others. I have talked to some people who let me know that their immediate neighbors didn't even check in with them. And I know of other people who went far out of their way to help neighbors. What separates those who helped from those who avoided helping? What does it say about who we are as a community? Come on! Tell some TRUE stories.

Anonymous said...

Plato said: "Wise men talk because they have something to say. Fools talk because they have to say something!"

Socrates challenges us all when he says: "Meletus, I must ask you a question: Which is better, to live among bad citizens or among good ones? Answer I say; for that is a question which may be easily answered. Do not the good do their neighbors good, and the bad do them evil? And is there anyone who would rather be injured than benefited by those who live with him?

Anonymous said...

I was amazed to learn that an elderly person living on maple street in view of the police station was never contacted by elderly affairs. This person has lived here most of her (86 years old) life. She was without power until Thursday.
We have many elderly in our neighbor hood and not one was checked out or helped by our elderly affairs!!!!!!!
Absolutely ridiculous that this is allowed to go on. Wake up Atkinson and throw Phil out!

Anonymous said...

There is no elderly affairs within Atkinson. What we currently have is an organization that has dedicated funds and is currently being abused.

However the elderly in this town are supposed to live in fear that if we do not have this organization (run by you know who), when they do have an emergency, they will suffer. I think the only thing that the elderly affairs group has done was take a police officer and make him a cab driver.

Its sad when you have read that the elderly affairs group from another town went out of their way to help the elderly of this town.

Anonymous said...

I was helping out at the academy on Monday, and guess who showed up?

Santa Claus! Mrs.Dayotis said she had no idea, it wasn't planned, a parent bought the best Santa costume I have ever seen,and took his time to see every classroom. The kids loved it!

Thank you Mr. Acciard for doing that for my child! It was Great. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

Fishgutz said...

And Mark doesn't need a pillow or a fake beard to pull it off. Don't let the ACLU find out you went to the school dressed like that.
Or the Chief. He might make up a law you violated.

As for the head of elderly affairs failing to do what he claims? Elderly affairs is a dues paying private club. Only the elderly that have paid their dues in cash and/or voting as he "recommends" receive services.
For all others? He is Chief and had to work safety details for the electric company.

BTW, The public schools down here in NC are ranked in the top 1% for all schools, including private. So if y'all ever want better schools and lower taxes, come on down. The weather is fine. Only been down here two months and love it already. All 8th graders are taking algebra. Not just the honors kids.

Anyway, I hope everyone has a wonderful new year. Free of major storms and power outages. And may the Chief see the light and retire before he gets fired and has his "pension" forfeited.