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Spring storm pounds Brandon; power out for many

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April 19, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

BRANDON — A vicious Nor’easter blew through southern Addison County like a freight train on Sunday evening and early Monday morning, leaving more than 3,200 area households and businesses — and the entire town of Brandon — without power for more than two days.

Central Vermont Public Service Corp. (CVPS) crews were still working feverishly on Tuesday morning to repair the Walnut Street substation that helps power all of Brandon.

Wind gusts reported in excess of 70 miles per hour in Rutland, along with wet snow, toppled scores of trees onto power lines and other electric utility infrastructure throughout Rutland County and into southern Addison County. Dozens of roads — including Route 7 — were rendered impassable for long stretches, until they were liberated by chainsaw wielding workers and volunteers.

“The widespread damage here rivals some of the worst in our (77-year) history,” said CVPS spokeswoman Christine Rivers. “We have never seen as much widespread damage in Rutland County.”

The bad news reached its apex on Monday afternoon, when CVPS reported 50,000 customers without power throughout Vermont. Gov. James Douglas and Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville spent Monday surveying the extensive damage in Rutland County. Douglas on Tuesday issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency for all counties of Vermont. The order allows the state to expedite the arrival of utility crews from other states and Canadian provinces to assist with restoring power. It will also form the basis for an application for federal disaster relief funding.

As violent as it was, the storm did not claim any lives and has been linked to only one significant injury. Brandon Fire Chief Bob Kilpeck said high winds blew a tree onto the cab of a tractor-trailer truck that had been traveling along Route 7 on Monday. The incident left the driver bruised, but OK.

Property damage was still being assessed as the Addison Independent went to press, but it’s clear that many homeowners will be filing insurance claims. Trees, large branches and other debris crashed through the roofs of several homes during the height of the storm.

“I’ve never seen the trees down that we’ve got down here,” Kilpeck said. “My house is surrounded by downed trees.”

Ironically, Kilpeck lives near the Walnut Street substation, which has been receiving a lot of attention from CVPS road crews. As of Tuesday, CVPS had received help from 30 outside work crews, with the promise of another 30 from Ontario, Canada, who were expected to be on the job Thursday morning.

“They will be here to help us until (the work) is done,” Rivers said.

And it’s clear there remains a lot of work to do.

Tuesday saw the following area communities still had customers without power: Brandon, Goshen, Salisbury, Leicester, Lincoln, Cornwall, Middlebury and Ripton. Leicester and Ripton had 550 customers and 300 customers without power, respectively. (While power was out for a few homes in Middlebury, the high winds, for the most part, stayed south of the shiretown, though were also present in the mountain towns of Ripton and Lincoln. Bristol received several inches of snow, but no high winds.)

“We are predicting it may be Wednesday (April 18) or Thursday (April 19) before we have everyone back on” with power, Rivers said.

Those without power sought refuge at various Red Cross and municipal shelters, such as the one set up at the Brandon Fire Department headquarters on Route 7. Kilpeck said around a half-dozen citizens — mostly elderly and/or ill — spent Monday night at the station. The station shelter can accommodate up to 25 people.

“If we have any people with medical issues, we can forward them to the hospital in Rutland,” Kilpeck said.

The past few days have been cold, but apparently not cold enough to send many people to shelters.

“My gut feeling tells me that people tried to ride it out at home, hoping they would have power (Tuesday) morning,” Kilpeck said.

That didn’t happen, however. The darkened downtown Brandon was eerily inactive. Bank patrons found their ATM cards useless, while motorists couldn’t fill up at local gas pumps due to the lack of electricity. As a result, many consumers headed north, to Middlebury.

“It was a little hectic,” Middlebury Beef Supply manager Anita Larocque said of Monday’s onslaught of customers. “But we took care of them as fast as we could.”

Larocque said the store fielded numerous calls from Rutland County-area residents who asked if the store had electricity, gas and deli items.

“It kept us pretty busy all day long,” Larocque said.

The lack of electricity made for some interesting times on Tuesday in Salisbury, where there was an Australian ballot vote on a proposed public highway ordinance (see related story).

“The first voters voted by candlelight,” said Town Clerk Anne Dittami, noting power did not return to Salisbury village until 10:30 a.m.

Dittami said the northern end of the lake sustained the most damage from the storm, especially sections of West Salisbury Road and West Shore Road.

“For a long time, a tree was blocking West Shore Road, Dittami said. “Electrical lines were down all over the place.”

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