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Freak snowstorm brings more devastation to disaster-stricken Western Mass.

Posted by Rachel Roberts  November 1, 2011 08:02 AM

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For the third time in four months, Governor Deval Patrick was forced by weather-related devastation this past weekend to declare a state of emergency in Massachusetts and request government assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Association.

The late-October snowstorm dealt yet another blow to Western Mass. communities who are still recovering from damages due to Hurricane Irene and a series of tornadoes on June 1. As of Monday morning, utility companies scrambled to restore electricity to a total of about 671,000 powerless customers throughout Massachusetts, while about 1,300 residents are residing in 38 shelters across the state.

“I think a lot of people were trying to stick it out, but now it’s getting too cold,” said Dawn Leaks, assistant director of the Pioneer Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross.

(See related coverage.)

In Springfield, public schools have been cancelled for the week and by Monday afternoon city residents seeking emergency shelter exceeded the 400-person capacity of the gymnasium and cafeteria at Central High School, causing the city to provide overflow van transportation to the American Red Cross’ regional shelter at Chicopee High School. The number of people in need of food, warmth and shelter from the nor’easter has already exceeded the roughly 350 people who stayed at MassMutual Center in the aftermath of the June 1 tornado.

“It just goes to show the devastation of this storm,” said Helen R. Caulton-Harris, Springfield’s city director of health and human services. “It really does show how widespread and impactful this has been for residents of the city of Springfield.”

State officials report that an unprecedented 1,500 crews were working to restore power, but even so, some residents may be without power until Friday. As of 4 p.m. Monday, 459,809 customers remained without electricity, including 303,683 for National Grid, 112,559 for Western Massachusetts Electric, 34,506 for NStar, and 9,061 for Unitil. Restoration time estimates are available on company websites.

The governor has confirmed three fatalities, including Jeffrey Mattarazzo, 20, of Springfield, who was electrocuted by a downed power line; a Hatfield resident who died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to an improperly ventilated generator; and an elderly woman in Lunenberg who was killed in a house fire in an area that was without power. Falmouth police have also reported the storm played a role in a car crash that killed two people.

In addition to Central and Chicopee High Schools, emergency shelters throughout Western Mass. are located in East Longmeadow at Birchland Park Middle School, Hampden’s Green Meadows School, Westfield State University’s Juniper Park School and Scanlon Hall, Worcester’s Forest Grove Middle School, Sturbridge’s Tantasqua High School and the Fitchburg Senior Center. An American Red Cross regional shelters are located in the cafeteria at Northampton’s Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, Belchertown High, Monson’s Quarry Hill School, Granby High, The Armory in Orange, Palmer’s Converse Middle School and War Memorial in Holyoke. Noble Hospital of Westfield is also providing shelter services to the elderly and those with medical problems.

For more information and locations of emergency shelters that provide heat, food and cots for sleeping call the state’s 211 help number.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the authors

Students in Steve Fox's Investigative Journalism & the Web class at UMass-Amherst have teamed up with the Globe to take a close-up look at the painful process of rebuilding from the June 2011 tornadoes that killed four and devastated communities in the Springfield area. Their work will also appear in the Boston Globe. Steve joined the journalism faculty at UMass-Amherst in 2007 and has 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at The Washington Post's award-winning website.

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