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‘Superstorm’ Sandy Dealt Anxious Upper Valley a Mild Blow

Roland Perkins of PLC Construction helps to restore power in Sharon yesterday afternoon.
(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Roland Perkins of PLC Construction helps to restore power in Sharon yesterday afternoon. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

— Vermont officials say they dodged a bullet with Hurricane Sandy, but thousands of residents in the Upper Valley were still without electricity yesterday afternoon as utility workers rushed to remove fallen trees and repair lines.

President Obama also declared New Hampshire a disaster area yesterday, freeing up federal funds. As of 5 p.m. yesterday, there were about 137,500 New Hampshire customers without power, and nearly 6,000 Vermonters were still in the dark.

In Sharon, nearly 1,400 customers were without power yesterday afternoon and the Mascoma Valley Regional School District cancelled classes yesterday because about a third of the bus routes were blocked by trees or downed power lines.

Despite the power outages, many Upper Valley residents breathed relief when they woke up yesterday morning and saw that this storm’s wrath was nothing compared to Tropical Storm Irene last August.

Sharon Fire Chief Dana Durkee and his crew were ready for Sandy, which by yesterday had been designated a Post-Tropical Cyclone. He dispatched teams of firefighters Monday to check on each road in Sharon. When it grew dark and no damage had been reported, he sent everyone home except for his road foreman.

“We stayed out all night cruising the roads,” Durkee said. “If something happened, fire or rescue, I wanted to make sure people could get to where they needed to go.” During Tropical Storm Irene, 7 ½ feet of water flooded the firehouse, making Durkee anxious about Sandy. But from Monday into yesterday, the fire department did not receive any calls from its dispatch center.

“I was surprised,” said Durkee, who has been with the department since 1984. “I was a little apprehensive and nervous about the storm last night.” In the past, Durkee said Sharon seldom had to worry about hurricanes.

After Irene, however, people have become more cautious. “I think Irene really put the spook into everyone,” Durkee said. “But in the same sense, it made everyone safer.”About five miles away in South Royalton RB’s Delicatessen had one bag of ice left around noon after residents from Sharon had been coming into the deli for supplies. The eatery had sold out of flashlights.

“Some people just wanted to make sure they were prepared,” said Daisy Salls, manager of the delicatessen. “We got some extra water for the customers and some extra bread.” Daisy Salls husband, Tony Salls, was at the deli helping out. He had expected that Hurricane Sandy would cause more damage.

“I was really surprised about the lack of trees down,” Tony Salls said.

“I really thought there was going to be a lot more, the way the wind kicked up.” Jeff Hackett had stopped in the deli for lunch. A firefighter in Randolph, the only call they had come in was a downed power line on Monday evening.

“It was a pretty quiet night,” said Hackett, who owns Jeff’s Barbershop in South Royalton. “I was surprised. I expected there to be a lot more with the way the wind was howling.”

“People would probably tell you they were more prepared, I’d say they were more panicked. Fourteen months isn’t a long time. They’re more aware of what can actually happen.”

Added Tony Salls: “Irene opened a lot of eyes.”

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said yesterday morning at a press conference that since Vermont wasn’t hit that hard by the storm, he wants to send resources to other states, such as two National Guard helicopters.

“The fact that we dodged the bullet on this one is extraordinarily good news, but we could be in the same situation as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania,” Shumlin said Green Mountain Power had 142 of its own internal line employees working to restore power yesterday, as well as 130 contract tree employees and an additional 250 employees from Florida, Mississippi and California.

Company spokesman Jeremy Baker said he hoped to have most of the outages restored by midnight, including all outages in Orange County. But Baker said that other outages would last today.

In New Hampshire, one death was reported yesterday when a construction worker checking a job site died in a landslide in Lincoln.

State officials in the Granite State were thankful that Hurricane Sandy’s wrath was not worse, but they also noted that the state has a lot of work to do since there were still about 137,500 customers statewide without power (down from the 210,000 who lost power at the peak of the storm). Some New Hampshire residents could be without power until Friday or Saturday, but Jim Van Dongen, the public information officer for New Hampshire’s Department of Safety said it’s expected that most power would be returned by the weekend. Van Dongen said there were 29 state roads and 221 municipal roads in the state closed yesterday afternoon because of fallen trees.

In the Mascoma Valley, the schools were closed because trees and power lines were still being picked up throughout the day in each of the five towns that send students to the district.

“If there are just one or two bus routes interrupted, I can get that information to families,” Superintendent Patrick Andrew said. “But when you have multiple routes with multiple families, you just can’t do it.” Andrew planned for the district to reopen today. Police officials in Canaan and Enfield said most trees were removed from the roadways yesterday afternoon, but power remained out in much of the valley. The New Hampshire Electric Co-op reported at 7 p.m. yesterday that 280 Grafton customers were still without power, as well as 175 customers in Canaan and 116 customers in Orange. And Public Service of New Hampshire reported that Enfield still had 25 customers without electricity.

During the height of the storm, Lebanon high winds peaked at 37 mph, while winds reached as high as 60 mph in Portsmouth, N.H., and 140 mph at Mt. Washington.

While Hurricane Sandy heads to Canada, the Upper Valley could still receive tropical moisture and rain showers, said James Brown, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Maine. While the worst is over, Brown warned that it’s not quite over yet.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223. Liz Sauchelli at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3305. The Associated Press contributed to this report.