Eversource, Orleans Officials Respond To Powerless Seniors

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Storms , Orleans news , Senior issues

Eversource and emergency response personnel worked to get Tonset Woods back online last week after the nor'easter knocked out power throughout town. The development accommodates 100 senior residents. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

by Ryan Bray

ORLEANS – As town officials and Eversource crews worked around the clock to restore power in the days after last week's nor'easter, special efforts were made to residents of the town's two senior housing developments.

Almost all residents and businesses in Orleans were without power Oct. 27, including those at Tonset Woods and Rock Harbor Village. The developments, which are managed by the Orleans Housing Authority, together house 200 seniors.

Eversource reported that 91 percent of its customers in Orleans were without power immediately following the storm, which knocked out power for more than 100,000 people and businesses across the Cape and islands.

"I think this hit us somewhat unprepared," Judi Wilson, director of the Orleans Council on Aging, said when reached by phone Oct. 28. "I don't think we were anticipating a storm of the magnitude that we got."

Wilson said residents at Rock Harbor Village had power, but were left without heat or hot water until Thursday night. Tonset Woods, meanwhile, was left without power completely, she said.

The senior center had power and continued most of its programming throughout last week, Wilson said. The building also was one of two spots in town, along with the Skaket meeting room in town hall, that were designated as warming and phone charging centers for residents left without power.

But the warming centers only went so far to address the problem, especially as temperatures dropped into the low 40s at night.

"At 4:30, those buildings close," Wilson noted.

Orleans Fire Chief Geof Deering, who also serves as the town's emergency management director,  said the town's police, fire and public works departments worked closely with Eversource to get residents and businesses back online. A community liaison worked with the town's emergency management team to coordinate the local response and help prioritize areas to be serviced. A community task force, complete with a line crew, tree crew and supervisor, also responded directly to the team as needed, he said.

"It was incredible work that was done by the power company," Deering said. "They had over 100 crews working here in Orleans. Once they got going on Thursday, it was really impressive."

But Deering said bringing power to Rock Harbor Village and Tonset Woods was a priority. The two buildings impacted at Rock Harbor Village were brought back online by Thursday, but Tonset Woods presented a bigger problem, the chief said.

"The damage to the wires on the poles leading into that property was significant. There were a number of spots that were damaged, so it was a much bigger project," he said.

Propane was used to heat the building's community center for residents while crews worked to bring power back online. Wilson said staff at the senior center also prepared and delivered tomato soup for residents, who were unable to cook due to the outage.

Eversource provided generators to Tonset Woods until the utility was able to bring power back to the building Friday afternoon, Deering said. Despite the loss of power, he said the fire department received only a few calls for service from the senior housing developments last week.

"Although there were not a lot of direct calls, we were incredibly concerned about the safety of those people."
Deering said power was restored to more than 99 percent of Orleans residents and businesses by Friday night. The fire department and DPW continued to work through the weekend responding to downed wires, alarm systems and other calls related to the storm, he said.

Wilson said town officials encourage residents to have an emergency plan in place to prepare in the event of long-term power outages.

"We've seen this happen time and time again with power outages that can go on for a couple of days, but it doesn't make it any easier if you're one of the people without heat or hot water or an ability to cook," she said.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.