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At midday on March 11, only a handful of National Grid customers in Westford remained without power, but by now, the situation was all too familiar to residents who have experienced outages before.
Since at least the 2008 ice storm when thousands in town went without power for days on end, the drill has become predictable — heavy wet snow downs trees and branches which lean onto electrical wires, breaking them, and plunging the majority of the 9,885 National Grid customers into darkness.
That scene played out again overnight between March 7 and 8 when at the height of the outage, 87,000 Middlesex County customers and 104,000 Essex County customers woke up to no power inside their homes. Customers in other Massachusetts counties were also affected, but not in such high numbers.
Westford Town Manager Jodi Ross posted an update on Facebook at around noon, March 11.
“We still have 519 residents without power. 36 are single customer outages with service drop problems, which means wires down on their homes,” she stated. Ross said those homeowners would have to hire an electrician to repair the wires. Almost all customers were expected to be reconnected to electricity by the end of the day, said Ross.
This massive power outage followed one that took place less than five months ago.
On October 29, a fast and powerful storm knocked out power to 2,500 National Grid customers in Westford, forcing schools to close, for Oct. 30 and 31 out of concern over live wires lying on the roads, and postponing Halloween trick or treating until Nov. 3.
Each time a large outage occurs, National Grid brings in crew members from around the country to work on the lines.
On March 8 – 11, National Grid again brought in crews — this time more than 300, said company officials — from as far away as Toronto to restore power as quickly as possible. Bucket trucks were deployed all over town.
The company issued a fact sheet on March 9 with the following information:
“There is a significant amount of work coordination required to safely restore customers, and restoration is complex. First, at least one sub-transmission line supplying each distribution substation must be restored. Sub-transmission lines are located on rights-of-ways – off-road, in wooded and remote areas, and sometimes on easements along private property. To identify damage, patrolling is required, using either helicopters or ground patrol with specially trained resources using snow cats and off-road vehicles.”
A Canadian crew member encountered on the morning of March 9 in the Nabnasset section of town, summed up his and his co-workers’ challenge as they pored over maps of Westford and huddled in a group discussion trying to unravel the puzzle before them.
When asked if they had a timeline for returning power to the 90 percent of customers without it, the crew member voiced a pragmatic reason for his team’s methodical approach.
“Right now we’re trying to not get electrocuted…,” he said.