About 378 electric customers are still without power in Dedham three days after Tropical Storm Irene blew through town.
That’s a big improvement from Monday, when about 20 percent of the town’s 24,700 residents were without power, officials said. But there is still frustration aplenty for what is being characterized as NStar’s lack of response to Dedham.
Residents in the Manor, Greenlodge, Riverdale, and Oakdale neighborhoods were hit particularly hard, said selectmen chairman James MacDonald, but basically the whole town sustained damage.
NStar and National Grid have come under fire since Sunday as hundreds of thousands of state residents have questioned the utility companies' response to, and communication about, a well-publicized storm that everyone knew was coming.
NStar’s system went down, but MacDonald said the company should have had a plan and more preparation. Locally, the loss was mixed, he said. For example, the massive Whole Foods grocery store in Legacy Place was able to remain open because it has an auxiliary power source.
“They invested a lot of money in that building,’’ he said.
A Tedeschi store in Oakdale Square was not as lucky, losing everything when the power failed because it had no generators, MacDonald said. Across the street, Oakdale Pizza survived because it had the alternate power source, he said.
BJs and Costco were both out of power for a few days as was Best Buy, MacDonald said. In the latter case, although there was no food to spoil, the electronics giant had to call in police details because no power meant no alarm system, MacDonald said.
NStar spokeswoman Caroline Allen said the utility takes the comments and concerns of its customers and local officials very seriously.
“There’s always room for improvement and any opportunities where we can improve our responsiveness to customers and local officials in the early stages of future storm emergencies will be discussed when we complete our restoration effort,’’ she said.
Allen said Sunday’s storm was the first time NStar has declared a “Level 5” of its Emergency Response Plan, meaning severe damage is expected.
“An unprecedented number of NSTAR customers were affected by Irene, while massive damage caused by falling trees and limbs resulted in electric wires down across our entire service area,’’ Allen said. Downed wires are a top priority, though responding immediately to each one is a significant challenge during and after a storm of this magnitude.”
As of early Tuesday, the utility's call center had taken 254,000 calls since the start of the storm. On Sunday alone, it took 193,000 calls, Allen said.
“At the peak, we handled 10,500 calls in a half-hour.’’ Allen said, whereas on an average day 60 calls per half-hour are taken.
She said the average speed of answer was 30 seconds. Allen said crews used technology that provided real-time information, rather than relying solely on customer calls. Field response was prioritized by addressing emergency facilities, such as police, fire and hospitals.
“Next we address repairs that will benefit the largest numbers of customers,’’ Allen said. “This is evidenced by how many outages we’re repaired since Sunday. As we’ve been reporting, this will be a multi-day response for many of our customers. We will keep making progress as the week progresses.”
In Dedham, MacDonald praised town employees, from road crews to emergency services; a debriefing will be held in all departments in the coming days.
“The Fire Department made 90 runs in eight hours, the DPW made 150 runs,’’ he said. “My message is, when everyone else was trying to remain safe in their homes, they were out there.”
A full townwide cleanup is expected to take several weeks, and residents are urged to get brush and tree limbs in two- to three-foot sections or smaller out on the curb for the DPW to collect. For questions about debris removal, call 781-751-9350. For concerns about power restoration, call NStar at 800-592-2000.
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.