SOMERS, N.Y. - On Day 6 of recovery efforts, the occasional whine of chainsaws could still be heard around Somers and other Westchester communities slammed by Tropical Storm Isaias.
The brief but powerful wind event on Tuesday, Aug. 4, caused widespread damage in Westchester County.
By Tuesday, Aug. 11, a week after the initial storm, New York Electric and Gas Corp. reported that power had been fully restored.
NYSEG spokesman Michael Jamison said last week that it, like Con Ed, simply doesn’t have enough in-house manpower to handle a storm that destructive.
The utility had had outside contractors gathered in Brewster set to respond, but even with so-called “mutual aid,” it was a tough go.
STEPPING UP TO THE PLATE
In Somers, a town known for its volunteerism and ability to roll with the punches, residents found unique ways to cope or to help others.
DeCicco & Sons, the town’s newest grocery store, came to the rescue of residents in danger of losing their perishable foods because of the power outage.
According to general manager Charlie Macias, dozens of people hauled in bags of goods for safekeeping in the store’s freezer—at its invitation—until the crisis passed.
People came to retrieve their groceries little by little as power was being restored last week. As of Friday, Aug. 7, Macias said there were still “a couple hundred bags” in the walk-in.
The day after the storm, Highway Superintendent Nick DeVito apologized for the “lack of updates” about road clearing operations.
“We have had our hands full along with no internet or cell service,” he said, adding, “We also got our [butts] kicked.”
The storm did “massive damage” and, as of Wednesday, Aug. 5, there were close to 20 downed trees lying on power lines and a “multitude” of lane closures.
Supervisor Rick Morrissey, who had been posting regular updates on the town’s website, was clearly frustrated on Friday, Aug. 7, about how long it was taking to restore phone and internet services.
In light of the fact that more people had begun returning to work and were being charged with home-schooling their children, such outages were an “abomination,” he said.
Obviously, he said, NYSEG and Con Ed are “regulated” to a “greater degree” than are companies such as Optimum, now owned by Altice USA Inc. But the internet is a “needed service” equal to the need for electricity, Morrissey said, pointing out that it was “ironic” that the town had to postpone its Thursday, Aug. 6, meeting at which the Town board planned to announce the formation of a Telecommunications Task Force.
Morrissey said Friday he also found it distressing that, once again, the town was forced to deploy a generator at the intersection of routes 35 and 100 to maintain traffic control.
With multiple lanes of traffic converging at that spot—and at the intersection of routes 100 and 202 near Town Hall—a lack of signalization was an accident waiting to happen.
“It’s a matter of public safety,” Morrissey said of the town’s response.
The town declared a state of emergency, in line with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s edict, on Wednesday, Aug. 5.
Somers opened an emergency response center at the Lake Lincolndale Firehouse on Primrose Street. It had generator-supported power and internet.
No town buildings were damaged during the storm and no injuries reported, although one firefighter suffered from the heat while battling a blaze in the Lake Purdy area.
Grace Zimmerman of the Somers Historical Society said Friday that she wasn’t aware of harm to any historical sites.
Town Hall, which had just reopened to accommodate staff according to the state’s phased reopening guidelines, did not get power back until Thursday, Aug. 6.
Heritage Hills was among the first places to get power back. But, as of Friday, The Paramount, a rehabilitation center and nursing home on Route 100, was still offline.
Morrissey, like other officials, raised concerns about utilities’ apparent failure to adequately prepare for the storm. One of his gripes is that NYSEG has not offered to reimburse residents for spoiled food, as Con Edison is doing.
After New York officials pressured Con Ed, the utility said it would expand its claims policy to include spoiled food, medication and other perishables.
Morrissey pointed out that a lot of the elderly and families had been “stocking up” because they wanted to cut down on trips to the grocery stores to help bend the curve in COVID-19 cases.
Food also have risen during the pandemic, he noted.
Praising DeCicco & Sons for offering its freezer space to the public, he said it could have easily turned a blind eye and another toward profit-making.
Morrissey also said he was “so proud” of all the efforts of first responders and volunteers in the aftermath of the storm.
“There was not one ‘no’ the whole first four days. They all simply asked what they could do, and did it,” he said.
CALL FOR HEARINGS
Besides the sounds of chainsaws, wood chippers, and leaf blowers, there was a buzzing of another kind also to be heard in the hard-hit region as local and state politicians decried the storm response.
State Sen. Pete Harckham called Sunday, Aug. 9, on Albany to hold formal hearings on “the failure of electrical utilities and wireless communications providers to prepare adequately for a powerful storm, and their slow response to power outages.”
“The widespread damage and resulting power outages from Tropical Storm Isaias have revealed, once again, that our public utilities do not seriously prepare for natural disasters nor have they sufficiently hardened their infrastructure to withstand the magnitude of the storms that are now the new normal,” Harckham said. “I have worked storm recovery response since 2008 and little has changed. It is as if every time they forget the lessons learned.”
According to the senator, who represents the 40th District, which includes the towns of Somers, Yorktown, North Salem and Lewisboro, more than 200,000 Con Ed customers lost power in the storm, along with about 90,000 NYSEG customers.