Our neighbors east of the Berkshires were hard hit by last night's severe thunderstorms. Thousands were left without power and Western Massachusetts Electric Co. says that 31,000 customers were still out at 10:30 this morning. It may take several days until all customers are fully restored.
Officials say they have engaged the help of contractor and neighboring utility crews to assist with damage assessment, clean up and restoration efforts, after overnight winds, heavy rain and lightning caused extensive damage in WMECo's service territory.
Hardest hit towns include: Amherst, Bernardston, Buckland, Deerfield, Easthampton, Gill, Greenfield, Hadley, Hatfield, Montague, Shelburne and Springfield. Currently there are more than 440 trouble spots.
In Berkshire County, about a 100 customers are still affected in Becket, Lanesborough, Otis, Sandisfield and Tyringham. The storm blew through North Berkshire around 11 p.m. on Wednesday.
National Grid was also reporting a large number of outages in Central Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick was visiting Turners Falls this afternoon to view the damage.
Because of the large number of road closures, WMECo plans to use a helicopter patrol over Franklin and Hampshire counties to better assess the amount of damage to its distribution system. WMECo said it continues to evaluate the extent of damage; at this time restoration times are not available.
In terms of numbers of customers affected, WMECo said early indications show that this storm's impact is comparable to the December 2008 ice storm.
The utility is reminding people not to go anywhere near downed wires and report them immediately by calling 911 or WMECo at 1-800-286-2000. Don't operate generators indoors and make sure they are installed by a licensed electrician.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — A fire in a fryolator forced a brief evacuation of the Berkshire Mall on Friday morning and delayed its opening by 10 minutes.
The fire was contained to the McDonald's in the Food Court and is believed to have started in the fryolator's hood. The fire is under investigation and the fast-food purveyor is expected to be closed for at least a day or two during that time.
The fire occurred around 9 or 9:30 a.m.; the Food Court is open prior to many of the stores in the mall's interior. The mall itself opens at 10 a.m.
An hour or so after the fire was called in, two fire trucks were still parked at the entrance and the McDonald's and court area directly in front of it were cordoned off with yellow tape.
Heather Salerno, the mall's marketing director, said staff evacuated the building immediately and procedures set in place for emergencies "worked very well."
"Obviously there was a limited a staff at this time of the morning but they were able to get everyone cleared [from the building] very quickly," she said. "The Lanesborough Police and Lanesborough Fire Department did a fantastic job."
Store clerks, staff and customers were allowed back in at 10 minutes after 10, she said.
Stefan Veremko, 28, was arrested after being spotted running from a Lenox building with a pillow case full of loot, said police. Veremko may be responsible for a rash of break-ins reaching from Southern Vermont to South County.
"We have reason to connect him to a couple of the housebreaks in town," said Police Chief Michael Williams on Monday. "We're still working the investigation with the other agencies in trying to link him to others [incidents]."
Williams said he was contacted by Lenox police on Saturday, the day after Veremko was arrested.
Recent burglaries in Clarksburg and Stamford, Vt., have had residents up in arms. More than 100 packed into the Stamford Valley Golf Course clubhouse on Saturday to discuss a forming a crime watch.
According to the Lanesborough Concerned Citizens Newsletter, that town, too, has been dealing with break-ins. Lanesborough Police Chief Mark Bashara said every effort was being made to find the perpetrators, according to Editor Al Hartheimer, and that all Berkshire County police departments were cooperating in the effort.
Stamford held a meeting with state police and a deputy sheriff two weeks ago over break-ins; Richmond is planning a similar meeting this Wednesday. Unlike those two towns, Clarksburg has its own, albeit small, police force and doesn't depend on state police for coverage.
Williams said he's been working with state police and other police agencies and that they keep each other apprised of ongoing investigations through a monthly "detectives' meeting," at which the recent rash of break-ins around the county was discussed.
"We had been putting the information together but couldn't link the Stamford and Clarksburg ones to that group," he said. "Now we're able to and its starting to fall together now."
It's not unusual for the bedroom community to have a few break-ins a year, but this time four occurred one right after the other at the end of October, beginning of November. At the same time, at least two break-ins were reported in Stamford and a possible attempted one. A couple break-ins had also occurred a month or so earlier in Clarksburg.
A number of Clarksburg residents have complained of lack of communication but Williams said the Selectmen have been kept informed and officers have spoken neighbors, as well as talking with other police agencies such as North Adams. A lot of information can't be released, he said, because it could hamper an ongoing investigation.
Veremko's arrest could bring closure to a number of break-ins fairly quickly.
"A majority of the time it doesn't happen [this fast]," said Williams. "I've seen it go for a year and then we find a clue or get information that closes the whole case."
The Selectman will take up the issue of the burglaries on Wednesday during their meeting at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall. A scheduled public hearing about a blighted house has been rescheduled to Dec. 9 because of problems getting the legal notice published in time.
Update 11/17/2009: Lenox Police will hold a viewing of the hundreds of pieces of evidence found from noon to 8 on Thursday, Nov. 19, in the auditorium of the Town Hall at 6 Walker St. Only those who have been a victim of a larceny and have an ID (driver's license, etc.) and proof of loss (such as a police report) will be allowed into the viewing. For more information, contact Lenox Police at 413-637-2346.