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Mass governor declares storm state of emergency

October 29, 2011

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NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency Saturday night as an early-season snow storm left hundreds of thousands without power and coated roads across the state.

Forecasters said parts of western and central Massachusetts could see more than a foot of snow by the time it tapers off Sunday morning. The Boston area could get up to 5 inches, along with winds gusting up to 50 mph.

At least one death was blamed on the storm, a 20-year-old Springfield man electrocuted when he stepped on a downed wire. The man, who was not identified, stopped when he saw police and firefighters examining downed wires and stepped in the wrong place, police Capt. William Collins said. Power was out in much of the city and lines were down all over.

More than 320,000 people statewide were without power as of 10 p.m., and that number was only expected to grow as heavy, wet snow continued to fall overnight, said Scott MacLeod, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

"Our advice would be to stay off the road unless it's absolutely necessary to travel," he said. Officials were monitoring the storm from their emergency operations center in Framingham. National Guard troops were mobilizing so they could be ready to help with clean-up efforts at dawn.

Western Massachusetts Electric Co. spokeswoman Sandra Ahearn told The Republican of Springfield that people could be without power for days. Just two months ago, Irene knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people and some remained in the dark for a week, prompting complaints about how utilities responded.

As of Saturday evening, the National Weather Service reported that 14.3 inches of snow had fallen in Plainfield, 12 inches in Chester and 6.9 inches in Worcester.

"It's a little startling. I mean, it's only October," said Craig Brodur, who was playing keno with a friend at Northampton Convenience in western Massachusetts, where about 4 inches of snow had fallen by earlier Saturday evening. The store had a steady stream of customers until the power went out, forcing the half-dozen people inside to scatter.

"We're New Englanders. We're tough. If you're just hearty enough, you'll make it," said cashier Bill Wanczyk.

The forbidding forecast had Boston Mayor Thomas Menino urging Occupy Boston activists who've been camped out on a downtown square for weeks in an anti-Wall Street protest to leave for the night.

"I'm concerned about the tents blowing over," Menino said.

But media volunteer Jason Potteiger said Saturday night that about 200 people still staying in tents at the site were in good spirits and the people running the food tent had more donations of hot meals than they knew what to do with.

"The term solidarity is used a lot in this movement, and I think the sentiment that's all over camp is that if Oakland and Denver can make it through tear gas and rubber bullets, we can make it through a little snow and sleet," he said.

The forecast forced organizers to cancel Sunday's 19th Annual Komen Massachusetts Race for the Cure. More than 7,000 people had been expected to take part in the annual fundraiser for cancer research in Boston.

Komen MA Executive Director Ronni Cohen-Boyar said the group was "tremendously disappointed" after planning the event for nine months.

"However, we must make this decision for the safety of all our participants and supporters," she said in a statement.

The bad weather did not deter Crystal Sibley, a Smith College student from Virginia who was out Saturday night shopping for a Halloween costume at a store called Faces on Main Street in Northampton that still had power.

"It's definitely odd buying your Halloween stuff when it's snowing out," she said. "It would be totally weird if snow canceled Halloween or something."