Second Nor’easter Sends a Body Blow to the Region

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by Barrett Seaman –

March came into the Hudson Valley like a lion—a lion on steroids. Less than a week after a surprisingly powerful “bomb cyclone” swept up the eastern seaboard on March 2nd, a second storm, this one laden with wet, heavy snow, moved over a landscape still littered with fallen trees and power lines, bringing down even more. Tens of thousands were left in the dark and cold—some of them still from the first storm, others knocked out twice.

Across the river in Suffern, an 88-year-old woman died when a tree fell on her while she tried to shovel snow in front of her house. In North White Plains, nearly a dozen people were hospitalized on Wednesday morning when a generator running inside their home caused carbon monoxide to build up, sickening residents.

Throughout Westchester County, dozens of roads were blocked off. The state banned large trucks from the Thruway, including the Mario Cuomo Bridge, where two semis had been blown onto their sides by winds in the first storm. The County opened warming shelters. The governor sent in six teams of National Guardsmen to conduct “wellness checks” in the valley and to lend support to Con Ed and NYSEG (New York State Electric & Gas Corp.), the region’s two utilities, in their failed efforts to keep up with the calls for help.

It was, to say the least, not a good week for the utilities. Their customer response mechanism, largely reliant on automated phone menus and cautionary robo-calls, left many feeling abandoned. Rescue crews from as far away as Canada and North Carolina were working on downed lines in Irvington and Greenburgh, but their arrival was late and offered only marginal assistance to what local officials called woefully inadequate preparation by Con Ed and NYSEG.

Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner called for Con Ed to “reimburse residents who were out of power for the days that they had no power,” arguing that such a policy would provide “greater incentive to expedite restoration of power.”  Newly elected County Executive George Latimer called on the two utilities to fire their respective presidents. At a March 9 press conference, he asked county legislators and other municipal officials to join him in calling for the CEOs of both companies to step down. “Both Con Edison and NYSEG have fumbled the recovering effort,” said Latimer, “and we as County residents can no longer stand by and accept this.”

The worst of the storm damage was north and east of the rivertowns. Katonah got 12.5 inches of snow in the second storm, Sloatsburg 26 inches. Newtown, Connecticut was buried in 24.3 inches. In Irvington, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, a dense, slush-like precipitation fell heavily upon rooftops and old trees that groaned ominously under its weight, but except for Irvington, the power losses were not overwhelming. Perhaps two-dozen residents of Sleepy Hollow lost power in the second storm. Except for homes along the southern border that were affected by the Irvington power loss, Tarrytown did not have a single outage from the second storm.

Village Administrator Richard Slingerland attributes that to good preparation—both immediately before the storm hit and over the long haul. “Our DPW (Department of Public Works) has taken an active stance to remove dead and hazard trees, so that during both storms we only lost something like 8 to 10 trees that involved wires and outages. So it’s a combination of preparedness and luck. It also helped immensely that the leaves were not on the trees.”

Sleepy Hollow Village Administrator Anthony Giaccio acknowledged that his village got off relatively easy, compared to Cortlandt, to the north, where nearly 1,800 lost power, or the communities along Long Island Sound. “We were fortunate in regard to outages,” he allowed, while adding that some of those were long outages—like Herb and Carina Hennas of Munroe Avenue in the Philipse Manor neighborhood.

During the first storm, a huge old tree fell across a thicket of pines onto their roof, snapping a bundle of electric cables on its way down. They called Con Ed and eventually got a tree crew to come out and extract the tree, which turned out to require meticulous work to avoid further damage. But when Con Ed finally arrived in the middle of the second storm, their efforts caused a short that knocked out power to as many as 20 other houses in the area. The Hennas were fortunate to have a generator, but they could see neighbors houses lit by candles. It wasn’t until min-afternoon Friday that Con Ed was able to restore power. “We were very disappointed with Con Ed, just in terms of getting the services out here,” says Giaccio.

Of the local villages, Irvington took the worst hit from the second storm. On Wednesday night, two transformers in the area of Sunnyside Lane and Broadway at the village’s northern edge exploded in flames, having been shorted out by the wet snow. The fire gave off an eerie orange glow in the night sky visible for half a mile. The second one took out power from a large swath of homes, as well as the Irvington Middle and High School campus. Mayor Brian C. Smith assured residents on the local Facebook account that, since the affected area included the schools, Con Ed would give it priority.

Smith was optimistic in some of his Thursday Facebook posts, praising the “amazing crew from North Carolina” that got a lot of the area back up and running. Of the original 614 homes affected, all but 47 were back up by Thursday night. In his post on Friday, however, the mayor was less enthusiastic. “Village officials have spent the day fighting for a restoration crew to be deployed by Con Edison to Irvington,” he posted. “It has not happened. There are no crews currently working in the Village to restore power to 50+ residents, some of whom have been without power for over a week.”

And now, on top of these two storms, the National Weather Service is predicting a possible third nor’easter hitting the area at the beginning of the new week.

Weekend Update: On Saturday, Irvington Mayor Brian Smith posted on Facebook that Con Ed crews had reappeared in the village, and that Village Administrator Larry Schopfer was in contact with them. “Con Ed has publicly started that they expect the ‘legacy outages’ from Winter Storm Quinn (the first nor’easter) restored by 11 p.m. tomorrow and the outages from Reilly (the second storm) by 11 p.m. on Monday. Hopefully we can beat those deadlines – it is a good sign that we already have a crew working.”

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