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Utilities say end near on repairs

Work crews are in final, time-consuming stages of restoration

By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / September 3, 2011

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Fewer than 17,000 Massachusetts electric customers remained without power late yesterday afternoon because of Tropical Storm Irene, as utility workers logged long hours to repair downed wires.

National Grid officials said yesterday that 15,000 customers were still without power. Those numbers were expected to drop to 5,000 by last night. All National Grid customers should have their power returned by tomorrow evening.

NStar reported that about 1,500 customers were also without electricity yesterday afternoon, and officials expected work to be completed last night. NStar customers without power were scattered throughout the Metrowest area, the South Shore, and Cape Cod, according to NStar spokesman Michael Durand.

Winds and rains from Irene caused 750,000 NStar and National Grid customers in Massachusetts to lose power last Sunday.

In a media conference call, National Grid Massachusetts president Marcy Reed said crews have been working in 16-hour shifts to restore power.

She said the remaining affected areas are on the South Shore and southeastern part of the state including Seekonk, Attleboro, and Rehoboth.

Ellen Smith, chief operations officer for National Grid, said it was taking longer for workers to repair lines in communities with a lot of trees.

Reed said crews are working in the “longest and the hardest’’ phase of the process, which requires them to work street by street and house by house to restore power.

“We are working tirelessly to restore power,’’ said Reed, noting that 98 percent of customers would have power by last night.

NStar’s Durand also said that crews were in the final leg of the process, “the more time-consuming phase of working to restore power to a smaller number of customers.’’

Irene damaged more than 20 major transmission lines, and utilities have been warning customers that it may take up to a week to restore power.

Not only was damage extensive, but there were also fewer repair crews dispatched from nearby states because they were dealing with the effects of Irene in their own areas.

Restoring power can be time consuming because it involves clearing trees, replacing cables, fixing transformers, and coordinating with repair crews from phone and cable companies that share utility poles.

In Attleboro yesterday, Mayor Kevin J. Dumas vented on the town’s website about efforts to restore power to his city, where school begins next week. About 330 customers were without power late yesterday afternoon. He was out in the field observing crews and talking to residents.

Dumas was unavailable yesterday but on the town’s website, he shared with residents that he had met with Reed and “expressed my extreme frustration with the responsiveness and inadequate communication from National Grid.’’

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.