Mass. sends helicopters, staff to help out states hit harder by Hurricane Sandy

With the lights coming back on for more and more Massachusetts electric customers two days after Hurricane Sandy, the state has offered its help to harder-hit states to the south, sending National Guard helicopters and personnel, state officials said today.

Two Blackhawk helicopters were sent to New Jersey, while seven Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency staff went to Albany, N.Y., to the New York State emergency operations center to assist with logistics. A Beverly-based urban search and rescue team responded first to Connecticut and now to New York, said MEMA spokesman Peter Judge.

“We have been fortunate and we want to assist other states in any way we can,” Governor Deval Patrick said in a statement.

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Meanwhile, efforts by utility companies to restore power in Massachusetts are “moving in the right direction,” Judge said. “Hopefully, by the end of the day, we’ll see incredible progress.”

The superstorm, which came ashore Monday night in New Jersey, left at least 55 people dead along the East Coast, hammering New York and New Jersey. At the height of the disaster, more than 8.2 million lost electricity. It has become clear that restoring the region to its ordinarily frenetic pace could take days or, in the case of the hardest-hit communities and transportation networks, considerably longer.

Massachusetts braced for the storm but turned out to be relatively lucky, with no reports of serious injuries, though seas rose high in some shore communities and countless tree and branches were toppled by the wind onto houses, cars, and power lines across the state.

As of 1 p.m., a total of about 85,000 customers remained without power in Massachusetts. That included about 26,000 NStar; 57,000 National Grid; and 2,000 Western Massachusetts Electric Co. customers, MEMA said.

The number of outages had risen to as high as 385,000 in the middle of the storm on Monday evening.

National Grid plans to restore power to 75 percent of affected customers by midnight Thursday and to all customers by midnight Friday, said Deborah Drew, spokeswoman for National Grid. The utility company restored power to eight Massachusetts hospitals during the overnight hours Monday, she said.

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, Drew said. More than 500 National Grid workers from 31 states and two Canadian provinces are removing trees and replacing lines, polls, and transformers across Massachusetts.

“We want our Massachusetts customers to know that we are out in full force, working to restore their power as quickly and safely as possible,” Drew said.

Of the 400,000 NStar customers affected by Sandy, 92 percent have had their power restored, said NStar spokeswoman Caroline Pretyman.

Approximately 274,000 customers, or 69 percent of those affected, had their power restored within 24 hours, she said.

“We expect complete restoration to take place over the next 36 to 48 hours, with many expected back as early as today,” Pretyman said in an e-mail. “More than 35 communities have already been declared back to normal. As the large area outages have been restored, crews are now focusing on the smaller pockets of customers often impacted by heavy tree conditions.”

Some of these hardest-hit communities are Sherborn, Carlisle, Weston and Sudbury, Pretyman said.

“I will say that we have been receiving high marks from communities on our community liaison process and the fact that communication and information-sharing are markedly improved from the two storms last year,” she said.

Overall, damage to the area was relatively modest and state officials were relieved that Massachusetts was spared the vast destruction that struck the New York and New Jersey coasts this morning, the Globe reported this morning.

The MBTA said full service had returned to the D branch of the Green Line, one of the last remaining trouble spots from the storm.

Amtrak has canceled train service between Boston and Newark and Acela Express service for the entire Northeast Corridor today. It said it would offer modified Downeaster service from Boston to Portland, Maine.

Wild weather returned to one Massachusetts town Tuesday night. The National Weather Service is dispatching a survey team to Wareham to investigate reports of a possible microburst that slammed parts of the town with violent winds and heavy thunderstorms.

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