By LINDSAY OLIVIER
NORTH KINGSTOWN – Instead of the sounds of school buses roaring around town bringing children back for the start of another school year, the air was is full of the sounds from chainsaws, generators and leaf blowers, attempting to clean up from Tropical Storm Irene’s path of destruction.
When Southern Rhode Island first began feeling its effects, Irene was still a category one hurricane, but soon was downgraded to tropical storm status. Nevertheless, it still caused widespread damage and has halted the lives of hundreds of thousands of residents.
As of Wednesday afternoon, National Grid had restored power to more than 227,000 customers in Rhode Island and expected to have restoration estimates for all communities by the end of the week. At the height of the storm, National Grid had approximately 340,000 without power. They want customers to know that they are using all resources possible including “amphibious vehicles, helicopters and ATVs to access remote and hard to reach areas. We recognize the inconvenience a loss of power is to our customers and we appreciate your patience as restoration efforts continue,” is written on their website.
Wickford Middle School was opened as a shelter and staffed by Red Cross volunteers. It opened at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Town Manager Michael Embury issued a Code Red message which included a mandatory evacuation to be completed by 11 a.m. on Sunday of all residents living in low lying properties, east of Route 1A (Post Road) in the south end and residents in coastal neighborhoods east of Route 1 in the north end. The town also issued a town-wide parking ban.
The message also included residents who lived in close proximity to local dams which included the Bellville Pond, Secret Lake, Hamilton Reservoir, Shady Lea, Rodman Mill, Carr Pond, Slocum Woods and Slocum Road Upper Dams. This was issued because of the potential of flooding rains. Both Code Red alerts were sent out via automated phone calls.
According to North Kingstown Police Chief Thomas Mulligan, approximately 25 to 30 residents used the shelter at the middle school.
There was an unconfirmed report of either a tornado or micro-burst in the area of North Quidnessett Road and Hillcrest Drive. Because of that event, a lengthy section of road is currently impassable and will likely stay that way for days to come. The extreme winds toppled trees on power lines and knocked over electric poles.
Jeanne D’Arezzo lives on Hillcrest Drive and her house is at the entrance to the development. She woke up around 9 a.m. Sunday morning and while standing in the kitchen, she observed everything spinning outside the windows.
“I thought to myself, oh my God, is this what today is going to be like? It’s difficult to explain. The only thing I can say is that it was beyond wind. At first, I didn’t know what it was; I assumed it was a crazy burst of wind. I didn’t hear the trees go down and it was later that morning that I found out what had happened.”
D’Arezzo described that moment as very quick and she never experienced that kind of wind again for the remainder of the day.
“It’s a spectacular scene to walk around and see this damage. Some streets and yards don’t have one branch.”
Though the town sustained wide-spread damage with trees and limbs falling down and wiping out power lines, Director of Public Works Phil Bergeron said it could have been worse.
“If this is the damage from a strong tropical storm, I don’t want to see what could have been.”
As Bergeron began driving around town assessing the damage, he said the worst part of town would have to be the North Quidnessett, Forge and Fletcher Roads area, citing it’s going to take some time to get North Quidnessett Road open, due to the fact that many power lines have been compromised. Even before the electric company can begin, all the trees and branches need to be taken away.
Since Sunday, about a half dozen roads were closed and as of Wednesday morning, almost all have been cleared. Among the roads that were closed were Hatchery and Lafayette Roads. The area near Slocum and Indian Corner Roads remain closed.
“Things have been going smoothly so far. Our crews are working hard to clear roads and right of ways. This is going to take several weeks to clean up.”
Bergeron stressed that homeowners not put yard waste by the road thinking public works crews will pick them up. That’s not the case and Bergeron said it’s just going to become a hazard and hinder the clean-up process. To help aid residents in disposing of their yard debris, the town has opened up the former landfill on Hamilton Allenton Road for residents to drop debris off for free. In addition, the town’s transfer station will also be doing the same.
“As I was driving around last night (Sunday), I was dumbfounded to see certain sections with severe damage, but then a mile up the road, yards that didn’t even have limbs down. In my opinion, I don’t think North Kingstown is National Grid’s top priority, because I’ve only seen a few trucks around town. But that also doesn’t mean they’re not working in more devastating areas like the hospitals. I just urge residents to be patient .”
The public works department is working to compile a list of contractors, landscapers and tree companies to aid residents. For more information on this call the department at 268-1500, ext. 600.
The North Kingstown Fire Department responded to over 73 calls on Sunday, ranging from minor electric pole fires due to downed power lines to trees down. Fire personnel responded to a small brush fire on Boston Neck Road, which was caused by downed power lines. They also responded to numerous reports of trees fallen on residences. Luckily no one was injured.
The police department also had a busy day responding to some of the same calls the fire department responded to and helping notify the town’s public works department of downed trees and National grid of downed power lines.
Summer break lasts a little longer
North Kingstown schools were set to begin this past Tuesday, but have been pushed back until next Tuesday. Teachers are scheduled to report tomorrow. According to Superintendent Dr. Philip Auger, all schools have power except Wickford Middle School and that school was the determining factor of when school would start. Even though the school was the emergency shelter, it lost power when the generator kicked on. But now with the storm over, crews are working to turn the power on.
“The good news is that none of our schools sustained major damage or flooded,” he added.
Some residents who lost power early on in the storm had little to entertain them. One resident played Monopoly with his wife and then became extremely bored. They’re still waiting for power to be turned on.
Others took up shop in their basements, like Trevor O’Rourke and his two Beagles.
“There are some old trees surrounding my house and I didn’t want to be upstairs if they came down. So we just chilled in the basement watching Red Box movies until the power went out and then I went to sleep.”
“I lost power fairly early on Sunday and I took advantage of the somewhat peace and quiet to perfect my knitting,” said Slocum resident Thelma Bryant. “I haven’t knitted in years and just started up again.”
Besides a few broken limbs, Bryant’s yard fared well. But she is still without power.
Woodlawn Drive resident Stefan Regelmann and his 7 year-old son Jack, passed time playing with toys, watching movies and playing Nintendo DS.
“Jack put clothespins on many random things around the house just to make sure they didn’t blow away. There are about 30 of them all around and I’m still finding them,” he laughed.
Not bad for all businesses
Don’s Mower Service on Post Road, sells on the average about one to two generators a year. In the last few days, he’s broken that record enormously. He’s sold around 45 to 55 and has two truckloads more coming in this week from the distributor.
“I have three mechanics working full time repairing broken chainsaws and other equipment,” said owner Mike Dowd. “Chainsaws are flying off the shelf.”
The first delivery of generators arrived mid-week and the second is due in Saturday morning. Those needing generators are urged to call the shop today (Thursday) to put down a deposit. Saturday mornings the generators will be fully set up and ready to go. Those available will be 7,500 watts for $1,349 and a few 5,500 watts.
“The shop actually lost power and we’ve been running on a generator. Hurricane season isn’t over and who knows if we’ll get another storms. Having a generator will really make your life easy,” he added.
For more information on generators call 295-0600.
It could have been a whole lot worse for North Kingstown and surrounding areas, but officials hope residents learned from Irene and keep that information in the forefront of their minds when the “next” storm comes around.