Home News and Features WEC: Outage Could Drag On ‘Til Dec. 30- Overnight Warming Shelters Closed

WEC: Outage Could Drag On ‘Til Dec. 30- Overnight Warming Shelters Closed

This tree was still across a utility line on Cummings Cross Road in East Montpelier on Dec. 26 as it has been since Friday, Dec. 23. Photo by Carla Occaso.
It looks like some people will come close to ringing in the New Year the same way they welcomed St. Nick: In the dark. 

Washington County still leads the pack for outages as of Monday morning, Dec. 26, with 1,624 out of a total of 5,539 statewide, according to Vtoutages.org. The outages were primarily caused by trees and limbs coming down during an all-conditions storm that rolled through Vermont on Christmas Eve beginning early in the morning. The storm involved heavy rain, sleet, snow, and high winds followed by temperatures plummeting into a deep freeze.

Widespread power outages reached up to 75,000 statewide at the height of the storm,  according to Hillarie Scott, public information officer with the Vermont Emergency Management center. And while outages are down significantly, thousands are still without power and could continue to be so for days.

A Washington Electric Co-op post published Monday, Dec. 26, stated, “We expect the bulk of the outages to be repaired Tuesday (Dec. 27) and Wednesday (Dec. 28), but there will likely be lingering areas that are particularly challenging to restore into Friday (Dec. 30). Crews are working long hours to restore power as quickly as they can, and have given up time with their families during the holidays to do so.”

This situation resulted in the first (storm-related) emergency overnight shelters to be opened in the State of Vermont, according to Nick Emlen, Calais Emergency Management director. Emlen spoke to The Bridge by phone on Dec. 26. He said the emergency management team had met with the American Red Cross in October to survey the town’s buildings and see which ones would be best suited for overnight shelters should an emergency arise. They settled on the Calais Elementary School.

The Red Cross provided Calais with cots and blankets, and trained them on how to set up, run, and close a shelter. This shelter opened for its first emergency on Friday, Dec. 23, and remained open through noon on Christmas Day, Dec. 25. Emlen said over 30 people came the first day, many just to charge devices, but some stayed the night. Two volunteer staff people stayed overnight each night. There was a shower available, and the kitchen offered corn chowder. The Adamant Co-op also donated food, but nobody prepared or served a “full blown dinner.”

Emlen said he and the others on the committee were mostly concerned about having shelter for those without backup heating sources. He also praised Calais Elementary Principal Cat Fair and Head of Maintenance Chris Tuller for their helpfulness and generosity.

Emlen also said the Calais Emergency Management Team will be hosting the American Red Cross to show others the basics of how to set up and manage emergency overnight shelters. He hopes people from surrounding towns will attend.

The American Red Cross opened the Barre Auditorium as the only other (storm-related) emergency overnight shelter listed on the Vermont Emergency Management website. Calls to the Red Cross, the Barre Auditorium, and Barre city officials were unsuccessful, but a recording on the voicemail of Jeff Bergeron, director of buildings and community services for Barre City, stated that the overnight shelter closed on Dec. 25 at noon, and would only open on an as-needed basis.

Screenshot from VToutages.org