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Utilities warn that high winds could delay power restoration

NSTAR

Matt Campbell / EPA

A row of NSTar Utility trucks were prepared for Sandy’s arrival in Massachusetts.

As Hurricane Sandy draws nearer, the storm’s increasingly high winds and lashing rains will prevent utility crews from safely working to restore outages, meaning that Massachusetts residents who lose power should be prepared for the lights to stay off for a prolonged period.

Utilities typically won’t send a crew out into a storm with winds over 30 miles an hour, according to Marcy Reed, National Grid’s president in Massachusetts.

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“Sandy is going to hang around and be unsafe for us to work in for almost 24 hours,” Reed said during a 3 p.m. conference call. “The duration will be a big problem for us, as well, because it will add all that time before we can start to address the problem.”

More than 110,000 electric customers in Massachusetts have already lost power today because of Hurricane Sandy, the “superstorm” poised to make landfall late this afternoon in New Jersey but powerful enough to wreak trouble hundreds of miles away in New England.

Massachusetts’s four major utilities already have hundreds of crews stationed around the region, ready to handle downed power lines and other utility-related storm damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, representatives said.

In addition to their regular employees, the local power companies also have been drawing manpower from other areas, including Georgia, Tennessee, Washington, Texas, California, and Canada.

National Grid has more than 500 crews -- about 1,300 people -- set up in hotels near temporary staging areas like like Raynham, Marlborough, Saugus and, Lawrence, where it is parking trucks. The company picked locations central to where damage is expected based on the storm’s path and are accessible by highway or near a large number of customers.

Northeast Utilities spokeswoman Caroline Pretyman said her company -- the parent of NStar and Western Massachusetts Electric Co. -- also has crews ready to go. NStar, for instance, has 3,000 employees, as well as about 1,200 supplemental personnel waiting and ready to respond to any storm related issues.

“NStar is bracing for significant damage and prolonged power outages resulting from Hurricane Sandy,” she said in an email. “We’re prepared, and we advise our customers to also be as well.”

Alec O’Meara, a Unitil spokesman, said his utility has 260 crews stationed across the company’s service territory, which includes Fitchburg, Lunenberg, Townsend, Ashby, and the New Hampshire Seacoast region.

“We’re still waiting to see the escalation,” O’Meara said of the storm.

The latest National Grid power outage map showed more than 45,000 customers affected. NStar reported more than 63,000 customers without power. Unitil reported more than 3,000 customers without power in north central Massachusetts, along with more than 4,000 in nearby New Hampshire.

Utilities have also been providing customers with storm preparation tips and updates via email and phone calls. Each has set up an online storm center where customers can report outages and get storm-related information. They can be accessed here: National Grid, NStar, Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and Unitil.

Meanwhile, at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, workers are in contact with local officials, preparing for severe weather, and monitoring Sandy’s wind speeds, said spokeswoman Carol Wightman. Currently there are “no plans to shut the plant down,” she added.

“Nuclear power plants, including Pilgrim, are robust structures and they are designed and built to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters,” she said.

Melissa Werthmann, Peter Schworm, John R. Ellement and Martin Finucane, Globe Correspondent and Globe Staff also contributed to this article. Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.
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