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Cleaning up Irene's mess

August 29, 2011

PAWTUCKET — There are hundreds of residents without power, toppled trees and downed wires, and several major intersections with no traffic signals. Yet, as Mayor Donald Grebien stated at an emergency management meeting with city officials and department heads on Monday afternoon, “We're dealing with the aftermath, but thank God, it was not worse.”
Because six of the city's public schools were still without power as of late Monday afternoon, Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke pushed back opening day for students to Thursday now, with teachers and staff to report on Wednesday.
Besides hoping to see the schools' computers up and running, Cylke said the extra day would also give maintenance staff and city workers the chance to clear away dangerous debris in and around the buildings.
The power outages are causing the most problems and inconveniences for residents.
National Grid has reported that three main transmission towers serving Pawtucket are still affected. At the Monday afternoon meeting, city officials said they could still not get any firm assurances from National Grid about when the power would be restored, as the utility company grapples with storm-related power outages across the state.
According to the Pawtucket Water Supply Board's chief engineer, James Decelles, the city's water treatment plant is fully operational and the water is safe to drink. However, he said that the treatment plant and the Rowe Street water station both lost power in the storm and are relying on generators. Decelles added that he has requested National Grid to give priority status to these facilities because of the generators.
The biggest problems that have been keeping the city's Police and Fire Departments busy are the downed trees and electrical wires. Fire Chief William Sisson, also the acting Emergency Management Director, estimated that the Fire Department made over 150 runs during Sunday's hurricane and Monday morning's aftermath.
Sisson said one of the biggest public safety concerns had to do with the curiosity-seekers out walking and taking photos of the fallen trees and loose power lines, often with little thought to the inherent danger. “There were lots of problems with people hanging around under uprooted trees and near downed power lines with no thought that something could fall on their heads,” said Sisson.
Building Official John Hanley concurred, saying that he was called out to inspect one house where a large tree had been uprooted and was leaning precariously while children were playing in the yard next to it. “It's a matter of common sense,” he said.
Hanley said that overall, there was not a lot of structural damage. The main concern has been for trees that have fallen over onto property or appear to be on their way to toppling. In theses cases, city workers have been trying to minimize the hazardous conditions. In one case involving a property under foreclosure, the city had to secure an emergency court order to take down a leaning oak tree in the yard that threatened two neighboring houses and was deemed a danger to the public.
According to city officials, if a city tree has caused damage, the city is responsible. However, the city is not responsible for trees on private property. If, for example, a tree in one's yard damages something in a neighbor's yard, this would be a matter between the property owners.
Grebien said that because of the storm, trash pick-up was delayed by one day and will resume on Tuesday, following the same schedule as with Monday holidays. He said that residents do not have to bundle broken branches and brush this week, and can just leave the tree materials curbside. Debris may also be taken to the city Transfer Station on San Antonio Way (off Mineral Spring Avenue). No sticker is needed.
Police Chief Paul King said there were a couple of crime incidents related to the power outage, but no reports of looting or other storm-related vandalism. There was a break-in at the Rite-Aid on Power Road at around 8:30 p.m. and an attempted break at Fairlawn Wine on Smithfield Ave.
Additionally, there was one storm-related injury when a child riding a bicycle in the dark on Blackstone Street on Sunday night fell and struck their head. The injury was considered non-life-threatening and police are urging parents to stress caution to children about debris and broken sidewalks.
King said the main public safety concern centers on the many traffic signals that are out, particularly at nine major intersections. He said extra police personnel have been called in and there will be roving cruiser safety monitoring patrols initially at Newport Ave./Armistice Blvd., Newport Ave./Columbus Ave., and Weeden St./Lonsdale Ave. These will be re-deployed on an as-need basis and augmented by police monitoring.
In addition, the Department of Public Works erected stop signs at other intersections with non-functioning signals. The police chief stressed that motorists should treat the darkened intersections the same way they would a four-way stop, and be courteous to their fellow drivers. Sisson said that 21 residents had sought temporary shelter at the Jenks/JMW school complex during the storm. However, that was closed as of 4 p.m. Monday and four remaining occupants were to be offered transportation to the regional shelter at Cumberland High School.
The Pawtucket Housing Authority (PHA) incurred power outages in three of its buildings, which, as of Monday afternoon, remained on limited, emergency power. The PHA community rooms and kitchen are being utilized for meals by residents. The Mathieu Senior Center at 420 Main St. has full power.
Grebien said that the Wildenhain Animal Shelter in Slater Park never lost power due to a generator that was brought in. Slater Park itself is a different story, with heavy tree damage and related debris. As such, Slater Park is closed indefinitely while DPW and Parks and Recreation staff do clean-up.
All other city Parks and Recreation facilities remain closed through Tuesday.
One bright note: the concert by the Arthur Medeiros Swing Band, scheduled for tonight, will go on as planned. The concert begins at 6 p.m. in the Veterans Amphitheater (next to City Hall).
For emergency situations, residents should call 911. For all other contact information, residents should call the Pawtucket Fire Department at 725-1420 or 725-1424, or the Pawtucket Police Department at 727-9100.
In Central Falls, Col. Joseph Moran said that as of Monday afternoon, numerous sections of Central Falls also remained without power. He said, however, that despite police being kept busy over the weekend with arrests for disorderly conduct and other minor disturbances, there were no reports of crime incidents related to the hurricane or power outages.
Moran said that any Central Falls residents who wanted to leave the city would have had to go to the regional shelter at Cumberland High School. He said it appears, however, that most chose to stay put in their hometown. “We have a lot of good people here, and they kind of bond together when something happens,” said Moran.
Moran also said that besides the problems with some downed wires, the biggest public safety concern is also the non-functioning traffic signals at several major intersections, such as Dexter St./Hunt St. He, too, stressed the importance of motorists using caution while driving and treating the intersections as they would a four-way stop.
“Thank goodness, we've had no motor vehicle accidents to speak of...knock on wood,” Moran said.
To contact the Central Falls Police Department, call 727-7411 or the Central Falls Fire Department at 727-7444 or 727-7445.


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