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Flash storm leaves neighborhoods without power, roads a tangle of trees and wires

A brief but powerful storm raged through town Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 7, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Strong winds downed many trees, taking out electrical poles and wires, and wiping out power for many residents across town. Some neighborhoods were left without power for days. With 14 roads made hazardous or impassable by fallen trees and live wires, the Harvard Fire Department had no choice but to dispatch all five of its engines to survey the situation and block dangerous roads.

In an interview with the Press, Deputy Fire Chief Charlie Nigzus explained that the Fire Department worked with both the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Police Department to respond to callers reporting fallen tree branches and power lines. The department also communicated with National Grid, working to provide a complete list of all the downed wires and power outages. Each fire truck and crew was assigned to a different location in town, and DPW crews helped to start clearing debris, and brought cones and barriers to block off roads. Nigzus noted that there were 28 different locations in town that experienced significant issues from the storm.

High winds from a front that blew into town around 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, brought many trees and wires down. As the sun came up, tree and utility crews began the chore of clearing trees from downed wires, starting with the worst-hit roads. (Photos by Tim Clark)

Despite the fire station operating on an on-call basis, many volunteers were at the ready when calls started coming in. “Wednesday is training night for the firefighters,” Nigzus said, “so lots of people planned to be at the station.” This coincidence helped the crew to quickly start responding to calls. Nigzus himself was not out in the harsh weather, but worked as a dispatcher at the station.

With so many residents calling the Fire Department, the station set up its own dispatch instead of using the regional dispatch, which is connected to multiple towns. Nigzus explained that doing so sped up the firefighters’ response time and helped them to better communicate, since all the trucks were out as well. “I helped coordinate,” he said, explaining that he answered calls and also coordinated resources and assigned firefighters to each location. He also had those on duty report back to him. “We ran the dispatch from the station from 18:00 [6 p.m.] to … about 22:30 [10:30 p.m.],” Nigzus said.

The storm posed a lot of difficulties for residents that night, as well as in the days that followed. Jen Manell, for instance, had a particularly harrowing experience. About to head home from her kids’ canceled soccer practice at Charlie Waite Field, she was informed that a power line was down by her house, rendering her own street impassable, she wrote in an email to the Press. Manell said it took her an hour and a half to return home in the storm after being detoured multiple times around fallen trees, and even a branch on a power line that was on fire. “The branch exploded a couple times, and I was thankful to not have driven under it,” she wrote.

Kayaks were blown off the racks at the town beach after strong winds coursed through town.

Although cleaning up in the aftermath of the storm went smoothly––Fire Chief Rick Sicard wrote in an email forwarded to the Press that by the end of the day Thursday, most of the fallen trees and branches had been removed and only a couple of roads remained impassable––the power remained out for many.

Manell’s family was without power for 48 hours and without internet for another day after that. “We have a generator to run our water, heat, fridge, and freezer. We ran that intermittently and grilled or used a camp stove otherwise,” she wrote. The big challenge, however, was her children’s remote schooling without electricity.

Despite the damage seen throughout much of town, Harvard’s orchards were not affected. “We did not have any damage from the storm to the crop, thankfully,” Frank Carlson, one of the owners of Carlson Orchards, told the Press. “Most of the crop was picked, and the latest ripening varieties hung on through the wind or were in protected places.”

At the Harvard Press office upstairs at the General Store, editor John Osborn described trying to finish the newspaper as the storm passed through. “The lights flickered off and the internet went up and down for 10 minutes or so, but we never lost power and were able to upload the paper to our [New Hampshire] printer that evening,” he wrote. “We held our breath.” Osborn said that he was also listening to the regional dispatcher, who was working hard to answer an onslaught of incoming calls.

“By Friday, all but one [dangerous situation] was resolved … and that’s since been taken care of,” Nigzus said. He expressed gratitude for the firefighters, DPW workers, and police who helped to keep the streets safe during the storm, as well as to National Grid for fixing the downed power lines and working to restore electricity to the town.

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