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Utilities Work To Restore Power After Storm

A vehicle drives under a fallen tree that hangs over a road in Wilbraham on Monday (AP)

A vehicle drives under a fallen tree that hangs over a road in Wilbraham on Monday (AP)

BOSTON — Massachusetts officials said Monday they expect about half of the state’s 460,000 residents without power to be back online by the end of the day.

“There are over 1,500 crews that are on the ground in Massachusetts as we speak,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan during a midday news conference. “That number will continue to grow where we will be up over 2,000 by [Tuesday].” Restoration priority is being given to hospitals and schools.

Still, in the wake of this weekend’s severe snowstorm, utility companies say it will likely take days before power is completely restored throughout the state.

National Grid President Marcy Reed said the damage is unprecedented, and the utility’s power restoration effort is a time-consuming, block-by-block operation now that it has repaired high-priority transmission lines.

National Grid brought in crews from as far away as Ohio, Texas and Kentucky to help with repairs.

Craig Hallstrom, vice president of electric operations for NSTAR, said 600 crews are prioritizing damage in 1,600 locations, but it can still take days to restore power.

“After we get through with the safety and critical customers and critical faculties like hospitals and shelters and those types of things, we try to get the biggest customers going first and work our way down,” Hallstrom said.

Gov. Deval Patrick asked residents still without power to be patient.

“I think if you’re the one without power for a day that you’re naturally frustrated,” he said. “But I think that the progress that they made overnight is terrific. But they have to keep that progress going.”

Patrick told WBUR he wants power companies to communicate with their customers.

“The lesson from [Tropical Storm] Irene was that people need information about when they can reasonably expect their power to be restored, based on the extent of the damage and the number of crews out,” he said. “And so getting that information up on their websites and out to their customers in their own town is enormously important.”

Reed said her utility is applying a new tactic it learned in dealing with Irene to better communicate with cities and towns.

“We have embedded company personnel with municipal officials in 90 of our hardest-hit towns,” Reed said. “This is helping us to understand their priorities and communicate information specific to their community.”

Patrick urged residents to stay clear of downed wires and to be sure to ventilate carbon monoxide when using a generator to power a home.

At least three people have died from storm-related accidents.

Meanwhile, Patrick, after declaring a state of emergency Sunday, said Massachusetts will apply for federal disaster aid, and that he’s most concerned about communities hit by the June 1 tornadoes.

“Monson, Sturbridge and out that way who were … right in the bull’s-eye again,” Patrick said. “[They're] just beginning to get back on their feet. But we’ll get through this. We’ll get through this. And we’ll get through it together.”

As of Monday afternoon, 1,300 people remained in 38 emergency shelters around the state, which were activated for those without power.

On Monday, thousands of schoolchildren at more than 100 schools around Massachusetts received one of the earliest snow days in memory. Schools in Springfield will remain closed all week because 20 of them have no heat or electricity.

The MBTA’s commuter rail service experienced delays Monday morning. Transportation officials say most problems on the commuter rail should be cleared in time for the Monday evening commute. But spokesman Scott Farmelant says they are expecting some lingering issues on the Fitchburg line.

“…[W]hich has more than 10 miles that are subject to a 20 mile an hour speed restriction as a result of power outages in that region,” he said.

Amtrak service in New England remained disrupted Monday afternoon. The federal rail passenger agency said that the line between Springfield, Mass., and New Haven, Conn., remains suspended.

The Vermonter Trains 55 and 56 between New Haven and St. Albans, Vt., are cancelled.

The Lake Shore Limited Train 448 between Albany, N.Y,. and Boston is cancelled, and Train 449 is cancelled, but with alternate bus transportation available.

With reporting by the WBUR Newsroom and The Associated Press

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