Metro

A sense of relief as region digs out

Despite punishing blizzard, outages, damage are minimal

The monster storm that staggered Massachusetts on Tuesday brought as much as 3 feet of snow, ferocious winds, coastal flooding, and dozens of evacuations. Despite the wallop, there was a widely shared sense the state had caught a break.

Far fewer residents than expected lost power. High tides did not cause widespread, devastating damage. And no deaths or serious injuries were reported by Tuesday night in a storm that moved steadily up the Top 10 list of the worst storms in Boston as the snow piled higher.

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Governor Charlie Baker lifted the last piece of the state travel ban at midnight Tuesday, and the MBTA planned to resume service Wednesday morning as residents dig out and head back to work.

“We should start to be thinking about getting back up on our feet and getting going again,” Baker said at the state emergency bunker in Framingham.

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The storm left more than 30 inches of snow in parts of Worcester and Middlesex counties and dropped 23.3 inches in Boston by 7:30 p.m., making it the sixth-biggest snowstorm in the city since 1935.

And at 9 p.m., meteorologists declared what seemed evident to anyone who looked out a window over the past 24 hours: This was, officially, a blizzard, with just the right blend of visibility-robbing snow and sustained winds.

The National Weather Service said snow would taper to flurries overnight, and winds — which had gusted to 78 miles per hour on Nantucket — were expected to diminish before shoveling begins in earnest Wednesday.

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In Plymouth, the Pilgrim nuclear plant was shut down after two of its power transmission lines became disabled during the storm, but the facility remained safe and secure, said Matthew Beaton, the state environmental secretary.

By 9 p.m., barely 10,000 utility customers did not have power, according to NStar and National Grid officials. That number, many of them customers from Cape Cod and the South Shore, was a small fraction of what many officials feared as the nor’easter marched up the coast. Still, nearly the entire island of Nantucket lost electricity.

“If you’re the one dealing with power outages, you don’t really care that the number is a lot less than expected,” Baker said. “But the fact that we are dealing with 25,000 power outages and not 250,000, I think, is a little bit of a blessing in all of this.”

About 200 people statewide reported to shelters, a number that also was less than anticipated.

Logan International Airport was scheduled to reopen at 6 a.m. Wednesday and handle a small number of flights before noon. JetBlue, the airport’s biggest carrier, was expected to begin service at 3 p.m., and a “full complement” of flights was expected by Thursday, state officials said.

The storm was more than a massive inconvenience for dozens of people along the coast. In Scituate, where a local emergency was declared at 4:55 a.m. Tuesday, the National Guard helped police carry out several rescues because of high water. During one mission, residents gathered on a front porch and yelled, “Thank you” and “USA! USA!” as they watched the rescue unfold.

Evacuations also were needed in Marshfield, where the police chief declared that the storm was the most ferocious experienced by the town in two dozen years.

Two neighborhoods there were flooded and impassable, and power flickered out for about 1,000 people. At least five homes were condemned, and a man in one of those houses had to be rescued in a bucket truck after a fall.

Hundreds of schools around the state planned to stay closed Wednesday, including in Boston, where officials said the schools might remain shut Thursday.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Tuesday afternoon that the storm was as bad as forecasters had warned, and he asked for cooperation and patience as work continued to clean up the mess. A parking ban on the city’s major arteries remained in effect.

“It’s not the time for anyone to relax or be complacent,” Walsh said. “It’s not easy to stay ahead of a storm this size. We will get there.”

That cautionary note extended to the resumption of public transportation. State officials Tuesday evening warned commuters to expect interruptions and delays once MBTA service resumes Wednesday morning.

An expected drop in temperatures Wednesday and possibly more snow on the weekend will continue to cause problems for the transit system, said Beverly A. Scott, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Scott urged riders to allow more time for their Wednesday morning commutes. “I need to be very clear that this is not going to wind up” with everything running smoothly, Scott said. “It will be far from it.”

Parking will be limited at many MBTA stations, and some bus routes are expected to be impassable Wednesday.

Baker had a message for antsy residents experiencing a touch of cabin fever. “The most important thing I would say to people is continue to be cautious and careful,” the governor said at an afternoon briefing.

He ordered a partial reopening of state government Wednesday, covering about 22,000 employees with emergency designations.

The storm largely spared western portions of Massachusetts, where only several inches of snow fell in much of that region. But the central and eastern parts of the state were effectively shut down. A statewide high of 36 inches had fallen in Lunenburg by 7:30 p.m., 35 inches in Auburn, and 34 in Littleton. And Worcester, with 33.5 inches, measured more snow Tuesday than at any time since records have been kept.

Despite waist-deep snow and billowing drifts — or because of them, in many cases — the storm became an irresistible adventure for many people. House-bound residents sought escape by strolling in the snow. Dogs were tugged outside for brisk and biting walks. And a prankster, or maybe two, dressed as the Abominable Snowman and prowled the Arctic-like terrain in Copley Square and Somerville.

In some places, trepidation turned to thumb-twirling.

“It’s not as bad as I expected, but there’s still plenty of snow,” said Lynne Ballerstedt of Mansfield, who passed the day by reading. “I’m glad I got more groceries than I normally would ever buy in one trip because I don’t know if my plow guy will ever show up.”

Across the state, motorists overwhelmingly heeded the travel ban, officials said. State Police Colonel Timothy Alben said only a handful of citations had been issued to people for violating the restriction, including the driver of a tractor-trailer that jackknifed in the Springfield area.

Despite the ban, helping hands — and wheels — became available for some medical workers and other essential personnel. The good Samaritans included Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, who helped ferry a few doctors and nurses to local hospitals Tuesday, a department spokeswoman said.

At the National Weather Service office in Taunton, staff members offered no apologies to anyone who thought the storm’s hype fell short of reality.

“We knew that Eastern and Southeastern Massachusetts were going to get hammered. . . And as far as what happened, that was pretty much spot-on,” meteorologist Benjamin Sipprell said. “I was born in ’81, and all I can say is I’ve been through some pretty impressive storms. This one is up there.”

Laura Crimaldi, Nicole Dungca, John R. Ellement, and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Jacqueline Tempera contributed to this report. Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com.
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