Two days after Hurricane Sandy lashed the region, utilities are making steady progress on restoring electricity service and expect the vast majority of customers will have power back by Thursday.
As the state recovered, it offered help to New York and New Jersey, which sustained catastrophic damage. “We have been fortunate, and we want to assist other states in any way we can,” Governor Deval Patrick said.
At the height of the massive storm, which brought thousands of trees crashing down on power lines, more than 380,000 Massachusetts customers were in the dark. But by late Wednesday, the total had dropped to under 55,000, and utilities said they were confident that virtually all homes would be back online by the weekend.
“The numbers have been going down steadily all day, and we’re ahead of where we expected to be,” said Jackie Barry, a spokeswoman for National Grid. “We’re trying to make a big push.”
On Wednesday, the utility had reduced outages from 73,000 at the start of the day to about 38,000 by days end. The greatest concentration of outages was in Worcester County, followed by Middlesex and Essex.
In National Grid’s Massachusetts service area, Sandy tore down 10,000 wires and knocked out power to 11 transmission lines, eight substations, and 60 main distribution lines, the utility said.
State officials said the utilities, which have faced sharp criticism for their responses to past storms, had restored power at a faster pace this time. National Grid had restored power to nearly three-quarters of its customers within 36 hours of peak outages, compared to 57 percent after Hurricane Irene and 45 percent after last October’s surprise snowstorm. NStar had restored power to 82 percent of customers, compared to 66 percent after Irene in August 2011.
Richard Sullivan, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said it was difficult to compare storms, or to grade the utilities on their response. But he said that utilities had readied more crews for Sandy and that more consistent tree-trimming appeared to have paid dividends.
“Even though this storm had higher winds for a longer amount of time, there were fewer outages,” Sullivan said.
Utilities face multimillion dollar fines for what regulators called a poor response to the two major storms, and Sullivan said he believed the threat of financial penalty was effective.
“It’s fair to say the aggressive oversight has made a difference,” he said. “It’s a better investment for them to spend on infrastructure and maintenance than on fines.”
Utilities cautioned that the remaining homes without power are often the most difficult to restore.
For instance, it took NStar crews eight hours Wednesday to restore power on a Roslindale street where the storm had brought down two telephone poles.
Despite the progress, a third day of outages was beginning to take a toll.
In Weston, where 38 percent of customers were still without power Wednesday, patience was running low. Donna VanderClock, the town manager, said communication with NStar had been spotty at best.
“It’s just frustrating,” she said. “We’re looking for a plan.”
In a parting shot from the hurricane, a microburst slammed Wareham with heavy thunderstorms Tuesday night, the National Weather Service confirmed. The intense storm carried 60- to 70 mile-per-hour-winds and gusts up to 90 miles per hour.
But across the state, even hard-hit areas were recovering quickly, and many officials breathed a sigh of relief that the damage was not far worse.
“For the most part, things are returning to normal,” said Allen Manley, deputy fire chief in Westport.
Massachusetts officials sent two National Guard helicopters to New Jersey, while seven emergency management personnel went to Albany, N.Y., to assist with logistics.
A search and rescue team based in Beverly was dispatched to New York City.
The search and rescue team, known as Massachusetts Task Force One, is made up of firefighters and paramedics, doctors, and structural engineers. But when disaster strikes, they put their day jobs on hold.
On Tuesday, the 80-member team traveled by convoy to New York City to support recovery efforts in areas devastated by the massive storm.
Once it became clear that the damage in Massachusetts was manageable, the crew quickly prepared to head south.
“We go where we’re needed,” said Jim Hill, plant manager for the task force.
On Wednesday, the task force went door to door in Howard Beach, a waterfront neighborhood in Queens near JFK airport. The group joined forces with federal emergency crews to assist in the recovery.
The team, one of 28 across the country, has more than 200 members from all six New England states. About 80 typically deploy at one time.
They are volunteers and regularly participate in unpaid training sessions. But they are paid during deployments, Hill said.
Spotty cellphone service in New York City has made it difficult to communicate with the team, Hill said.
But the 20-vehicle convoy had set up operations near the flooded neighborhood, which was inundated by powerful storm surges, and had begun its painstaking work, Hill said.
“This is what they are trained for,” he said.
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