Author Topic: The Nor'easter of October 2011: downed trees, cut power lines & sad grasshoppers  (Read 6878 times)

Offline Oil Lady

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The snow typically never starts flying here in this area until late November,  well after Leaf Peeping season and after the trees have all shed their leaves down to just bare sticks. Even with those November snowfalls, it's rarely very much accumulation, and so we never truly rely on actual snow until late December or early January. An October snowfall is almost unheard of, and usually doesn't even collect beyond a millimeter in depth. But THIS was "The Nor'Easter of 2011," which shattered meteorological records all across the board.

I live in Agawam, Massachusetts. The snow storm started here around noon Saturday, October, 29. The snow continued to fall until about 3 in the morning, Sunday, October 30. A total of 14 inches fell in this area during that time period. The trees of this region all still had over 80% of their leaves intact (more than half the trees were still green and hadn't even hot their golden red glows!). Therefore, the branches of those trees all captured probably 3 to 5 times as much snow than what they'd normally capture had their branches been barren.  The result was tens of thousands of trees all over this region were in some way bent, snapped, and fallen. And thousands of power lines have been severed due to those shattered trees. 

Over 90% of Agawam is without power and we will continue to be without power for another 3 to 4 days.

All the mayors of all the cities in this one county had a joint press conference this morning (today is Monday, October 31, just 2 days after the snow began to fall) updating the citizens about the lack of power. The governor himself also addressed the citizens.

In all of Western Massachusetts,  over a half million people are without power.

Down in Connecticut, another half million are without power.


THE GRASSHOPPERS' REACTIONS OF SHOCK AND AWE

Whenever the power goes out in this region, it's usually out for an hour, maybe two, or six hours at the most. We just don't suffer long power outages in this region. And even then ,we rarely see a power outage that is wide spread. But this was different because it was "death by a thousand cuts." There are just too danged many breaks in too danged many individual lines all over the place. It'll take a week to restore all those power lines.

Meanwhile, there's no hot water, no electricity, people cant shower, can't do laundry, can even make their morning coffee, nor can they get on the TV or the internet to get the latest info (I am in a Starbucks in Westfield, Massachusetts as I type this.)  Some Dunkin Donuts donut shops are open and some are closed. The open ones have lines lines lines lines lines.

And gasoline!! The really huge new gas stations (the giant Pride Stations that were built less than 5 years ago) have emergency backup generators, so those gas stations are open for business. But the older gas stations have no such generators so their lifeless pumps sit there not operating. There are lines of cars 20 to 25 cars long stretching down he road at every OPEN gas station I see (and those open gas stations are rare).

People can't cook whatever food they have at home, nor can they go to grocery stores because those stores likewise have no electricity. So they are going to the few and rare McDonald's and Burger Kings that are fortunate enough to be open (either because they are on a lucky section of the grid, or they have generators). Again --lines lines lines lines lines.

The City of Westfield has its own hydro electric power station, so they got back online by yesterday afternoon. Ditto for the City of Holyoke and the City of Chicopee (they all have their own local electrical hydro-powered dams so they have autonomy on their electrical generation). The rest of this area relies on the monster behemoth of a utility company called Northeast Utilities for their power. And NEU can't get the lines fixed quickly enough. There are just too may lines to fix, too many millions of miles of broken Christmas tree lights for them to try and fix all in one shot. A week, they say.

I see people coming into this Starbucks with bad hair, wearing pajamas.

I hear people talking about not having showered this morning, not having clean clothes to wear, and all the food in their fridge spoiling. 

I work in a nursing home in Westfield. The night of the blizzard, we lost power and had to rely on backup generators. There was no hot water so we could give no showers to our residents. I was the only person with a flashlight, and the other CNA's and even the nurses were borrowing my flashlight constantly.

I sadly live in an apartment at the moment, so I also have no electric. I drove 40 miles yesterday out to Pittsfield, Massachusetts to shower at my cousin's house before going to work the late shift last night --none of my other friends, relatives, or neighbors in this area had hot water. Today I will shower at a nearby friend's house who just got her power restored.

The temps dropped last night into the 20's, and they will again tonight. Many people are in danger of freezing tonight which will be the third night with no heat.

I went to get a copy of a key made for my friend --she gave me a house key so I can stay with her, and she asked me to make a copy. At the Westfield hardware store where I went to get that key made, they said almost every customer who came in asked about buying a backup generator. They finally hung a sign saying "No, we have no more generators." 

This whole crisis comes right on the heels of the freak tornadoes that ripped through this region just this past summer. So this is a huge here-we-go-again moment for a lot of residents of this area.



Grasshoppers becoming ants.



« Last Edit: October 31, 2011, 01:37:25 PM by Oil Lady »

Offline Morning Sunshine

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Grasshoppers becoming ants.

one can hope.  or it will be "wow, this was a freaky year.  but that won't happen again.  I don't need to prepare for any of that."

Offline Oil Lady

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When your presumed place of importance in the world gets shown to be the delusional myth that it always was, that's when you start to change your attitude and change your priorities as far as how self-sufficient you'll force yourself to be.

Let me explain the following about this region:

We are are part of "The Northeast Corridor." That's a long and stretched out swath of urbanism which starts in Boston, follows the key train lines southward and ends in Washington DC. The pathway of the Northeast Corridor was roughly duplicated by the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System in the 1960's. This corridor has been dubbed a true "megalopolis," which is a continuous stretch of city that goes on for hundreds of miles, joining multiple cities into one unified entity. So the "citiness" of Boston continues on an almost unbroken pathway all the way down the East Coast to Washington DC with New York City as the main anchor of that long corridor. (And some say that Richmond should now be tacked on as well because if the explosive growth Richmond has experience over the past 20 years. But some of the resistance to including Richmond is that the Northeast Corridor is deemed a Northern entity, a Northern club of exclusivity, and so those Southerners shouldn't be included into it. But money usually wins in the end, so if Richmond can continue to show a massive mountain of money each year, it'll eventually be let into the club. But the cultural resistance against accepting them is strong.)


This jpg shows the main pathway called the "Northeast Corridor."
 


This jpg shows the secondary extensions of the NEC which are appended to the main pathway.



This pathway of the NEC is deemed the heart of "civilized society" here in this region of the USA. There's a lot of self-importance among the residents of this region. There's a lot of presumptuousness as far as the belief that "we" are "it." (I see this shit all the time among my fellow New Englanders who either live along the Northeast Corridor or else who live along the Connecticut River.)

In fact, the portion of the Connecticut Rive Valley where I live is sometimes called the "Springfield-Hartford Area" (or the "Hartford-Springfield Area"). This region has been dubbed the "Insurance Capitol of the World" because all the original American insurance companies going back a solid 200 years ago started in this region. So we have banksters living here in the Connecticut River Valley. (Self-importance.)



Meanwhile, a lot of the VERY old and prestigious colleges and universities (and even quite a few blue-blooded boarding schools, including the Wilbraham-Monson Academy and the Deerfield Academy, ) are here, stretching upward into the Northampton-Amherst area. So this area has also been dubbed the "Knowledge Corridor" full of very intellectual types of the earthy-crunchy, save-the-whale, Al Gore variety. (More self-importance.)  A lot of Senators and Congressmen went to any number of learning institutions in this area, and send their kids there as well.

Here's how the intelligentsia of the Greater Springfield Area think:

The uneducated citizenry who dwell in the Hill Towns around here, THEY are the "less important" people who prefer the simplicity of living out in the sticks. They are the descendants of farmers and mill workers, and therefore THEY are the ones who have emergency back-up generators. But not us. No. We are, after all in the heart of "civilization" itself.  How could the electrical grid POSSIBLY fail around here? And even if it did fail, we are far too "important" for it to be left to fail for very long. WE are the Insurance Capitol of the World. WE are the Knowledge Corridor. WE are the ones who published Webster's Dictionary over 200 years ago and therefore WE are the standard for the proper pronunciation of American English as dictated by all American broadcast schools. WE are home to the second-largest city in New England (Springfield, Massachusetts). WE are the County Seat. WE have all the TV stations which service Western Massachusetts. WE are the juncture point for Interstate 91 and Interstate 90. WE are on the Connecticut River. WE are a main rail hub between all North-South rail lines and all East-West rail lines of this region. WE have the largest hospital in Western Massachusetts and WE have one of the few Level V Trauma Centers in all of New England. WE have 4 colleges in Springfield alone. WE are a region with more colleges and universities per square mile than almost any other region of the whole of North America. WE have a history of poets and scientists coming from this area.

Surely the electrical service for this region WILL NOT be permitted to fail. It simply can't.

We're too big to fail. Too important to fail. The rest of the world needs us and they will scramble to rescue us. Not like the riff-raff down in New Orleans who were left to flounder in helplessness after Katrina.  Not like the "little people" who live in "fly-over country" all over the Mid-West. Not us. We have too many connections with too many Senators and Congressmen and scientists and educators, and so they won't let us down like that. No. Not us.




Yes. This IS the attitude around here.


And those delusions are being shattered with each passing day that the power continues to remain off. Generators are being ordered. Relatives in other parts of the USA are overnighting D-cell batteries to the residents of this region. The supposed reliability of Northeast Utilities, and the supposed priority "WE" were supposed to be given by Northeast Utilities are two myths being thoroughly busted.

How could this happen? The government let us down! --us! Not just anyone, but US! If they won't (or worse, can't!) help the likes of us, then who the hell CAN they help?

These snooty self-important goofballs have to reassess their place in the universe and have to arrive at one of two conclusions:

Either

a) We are NOT as important as we thought, and the government needs to prioritize others who are MORE important than we are. We just need to know our place in the world is all.
or

b) We are still just as important as ever, but our government is not as powerful and protective of us as we imagined they would be (or should be) and therefore we must restructure our lives to be less dependent upon them than we were before. We are intelligent enough and resourceful enough to make up for the slack that the government is so obviously going to let slip by.  After all, the world needs us, and it therefore behooves us to make sure we remain strong and carry on for the sake of humanity.

Which life-changing conclusion do YOU think these pompous assholes are going to go for??


So I see grasshoppers around here becoming ants with each passing day. 









« Last Edit: November 01, 2011, 11:49:12 AM by Oil Lady »

Offline Morning Sunshine

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I love your part of the country.  if it wasn't so fuill of the types you just described, I would be moving there in a heartbeat.

I hope you are correct.  how did you guys fare in the Quebec ice storm caused power outage in '98?  the power first went out behind my apartment when I was living in Montreal, but I understand it effected a god part of New England as well.

Offline Pathfinder

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Oil Lady, let' have this conversation in 6 months and see just how many grasshoppers in your neighborhood became ants. My guess is very few. Watch Craigslist and see if all of the stuff people buy isn't put up for sale about that time.

Sadly, that has been my experience with urban grasshoppers, even today. Maybe continued bad economic times will change that, but I am not hopeful. Even up here where people pride themselves on being "self-reliant", I see grasshoppers everywhere, with the attitude of "It won't happen here". We did get 2 blizzards back to back last December dumping more than 30" of snow, but the streets were plowed and opened within a day or two. Our neighbors were without power for 4 days, but none of them bought generators this year.

The other attitude I see, like you do, is that .gov will take care of us. Not really sure there is much hope there.

Offline fuzzy

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I've never understood why God made such beautiful country as New England, and then turned around and gave it to a bunch of smart-ass yankees?  Maybe the tornadoes & blizzards will humble them a little bit?   Nawwwww!

Offline phuttan

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I loved it. We haven't had snow before Halloween in SE PA since I was a kid. And remember to keep your eyes peeled for good deals on slightly used generators, etc.

Pat

Offline Herbalpagan

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Hey all - I'm in one of them there "uneducated Hill Towns" that Oil Lady mentioned (snicker) and she is right. This state/area operated FOR the cities, not for the rest of us. The area I live in is closerto the MOwhawk Trail than the interstate, and we got 24" in my town, 30" in the next twon over...no power loss for me, but some were without. Hubby came home from Boston on Sunday after the storm (he was at a meeting)and he related the grasshoppers he encountered. Some didn't understand the words "cash only" and some were wandering like mindless zombies around gas pumps that weren't working. He even saw a few with the hose in their hands looking into the spout like it would suddenly start working!
Some of my prepper group live in the "Springfield-Hartford" area and they reported last night that it is supposed to be another 10 days before they get power back (not in the city, in the burbs). While they are preppers, their neighbors are not and they've been talking to them...they see that some are going to turn into ants, but the majority will go back to the way they were.
It's a sad fact of life that many think it will never happen again. This was a once in a life time storm..."THEY" will fix it so it doesn't happen like this! (yeah, how'd that work in the ice storm three years ago, the hurricane this summer and now with this???)

I really love New England, but don't love how the cities dominate the state. Cities seem to indoctrinate stupid into so many people.

Offline Morning Sunshine

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I've never understood why God made such beautiful country as New England, and then turned around and gave it to a bunch of smart-ass yankees?  Maybe the tornadoes & blizzards will humble them a little bit?   Nawwwww!

I think Lee Marvin explains this best here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-pAyVszASY&feature=related

Offline antsyaunt

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I really love New England, but don't love how the cities dominate the state. Cities seem to indoctrinate stupid into so many people.
  I so understand.  I really love the hill country of central NY, but the population is so low that this area's needs take a back seat to city areas.  As far as the recent storm goes:  we got lucky--again!  We just had a dusting of snow. 

Offline MaddoginMass

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Fuzzy....very few true Yankees left in MA.  They weren't the ones who were unprepared and whining.  Our nanny state has turned most people into expecting the government to do everything for them, which is just what the government wants. 

The State Gov. is already looking for a scape goat....and of course they are going after the utilities.  Instead of the people being more self-reliant and being able to go without power for a few days, the Attorney General is going to conduct an inquiry into why people are without power.  It is really nauseating. 

Offline Oil Lady

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UPDATE:

The first day after the storm, which was a sunny and chilly Sunday just 4 days ago, most businesses that even bothered to open were operating on a cash-only basis due to either having no electricity or else no phone lines capable of dialing through to the credit card companies. I went to the Rocky's Hardware Store in West Springfield on that Sunday morning, and I was greeted at the door by an employee who wore a snow cap, gloves, ski jacket, and carrying a flashlight and a clipboard. "I'll take your order," she said to me, "and cash only please." The store was dark except for the the sunlight coming through the front windows of the store. I said I needed flashlights, batteries, and gloves. She said the big flashlights were all gone but the little ones remained. I said that was fine.  She shone her flashlight through the store and asked me to follow her. "Be careful," she warned, fearing I might trip and fall (and sue?). We got to the aisle with the flashlights. She shone her own flashlight all along the merchandise wall. I chose my items and as I made each new selection she used her flashlight to read the item's wall hook where the UPC and the price were listed, and then she hastily wrote down everything on a manual sales slip (and she had IMPECCABLE handwriting). After all my items were selected, she handed me the slip and told me to go to the cash register with it. The row of cash registers were all located at the front of the store by the windows, so plenty of daylight was available for the cashier, the customers, and me to see what was going on with the cash exchanging. The cashier had the cash drawer of her lifeless cash register open and totally exposed. I paid for my items with cash and she had to make the change in her head (which she did just fine). She kept the manually written sales slip that the other employee had filled out, so I had no receipt (I didn't need one).

So many other stores were also just doing the cash only thing. Banks everywhere were closed due to their inability to make computer/phone contact with their data centers, and also due to their inability to activate their anti-theft systems. ATMs everywhere were also down. So if you didn't have cash, you were screwed. 

I was SOOOOO lucky!

I had cashed a paycheck for straight cash just a week earlier, so I had over $400 cash on me all through this crisis. Cash at Starbucks. Cash at Rocky's Hardware. Cash at the Pride Gas Station. Cash everywhere. I lucked out. I had also already done my laundry on Saturday morning, so I had plenty of clean clothes to fall back on, including 5 sets of clean hospital scrubs which I needed for my job as a nursing assistant. In all my travels these part 5 days through various Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, mega-gas stations, and hardware stores, I kept overheating people lament that they had no clean clothes, couldn't use their home washing machines, and couldn't find an open laundro-mat.   



Here is a map showing all the towns and cities of this area. Springfield is the main population center. The City of Westfield is really just an over-sized town which barely qualifies as a city. Same for the City of Chicopee and the City of Holyoke. All three of those smaller cities, (Westfield Chicopee, and Holyoke) are NOT reliant upon Western Massachusetts Electric Company, nor upon Northeast Utilities. Those three smaller cities have always had their own small, local, autonomous electrical utility companies. Those three communities all got their lights back on again in just 24 hours after the Saturday storm. Meanwhile, the rest of Western Massachusetts lingers in darkness while WMECO and NEU struggle with the massive, multi-county grid they they thought they could maintain.   




Here's a population map of Massachusetts. The red area to the West is the Greater Springfield area. 





And here is a link to the WMECO web page where an update of power restoration is given. 
http://www.wmeco.com/outage/





Anyway ...

The power came back on for my apartment building yesterday afternoon around 3:30. There are still tens of thousands of households in this area which do not have power. The town of Longmeadow as well s the town of Southwick were both at 100% power outage up until Tuesday. Longmeadow and Southwick are both now down to "just" 80% outage. And the thing about Longmeadow in particular is that Longmeadow is the one town where all the money is around here. That's where the super rich folks live. Southwick and Wilbraham are also high concentrations of wealth, but Longmeadow is the "old money." Longmeadow is where the doctors, lawyers, and the Mayflower Society folks live.  My brother out in Ohio is good friends with a man who lives with his wife and two kids in Longmeadow, and so my brother overnighted a bunch of D-cell batteries to his friend a few days ago (D-cells sold out everywhere by Sunday afternoon). 

The City of Agawam, where I live, is still at about 50% blackout. Another 2 to 3 days remain for getting the rest of Agawam back on line.

The City of West Springfield is also around 50% blackout. They also predict another 2 to 3 days yet for their service to be restored.

Hundreds of electrical workers from all over the USA have come to try and help Westerm Massachusetts Electric Company and Northeast Utilities to get back on line again. The City of West Springfield is housing and feeding all of those volunteers over at the fair grounds located in West Springfield. (The fair grounds are known as the Eastern States Fair Grounds, which is one fair to represent all six of the New England states at once every year. The six states don't have their own state fairs here, each state is too small in this part of the country to justify an individual state fair per state.)

A local abandoned International House of Pancakes in West Springfield which has sat dormant for over a year has been converted into an emergency medical clinic.   

Between my various trips to Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and any given convenience store, I keep overhearing people talking about their need of a shower and their desire to get a generator. I was at Dunkin Donuts this morning and saw a pickup truck in the drive-thru with a brand new generator in the payload. 

I went to a very crowded Wendy's yesterday afternoon for a burger. One of the employees struck up a conversation with me as he was changing the indoor trashcan near my table where I dined. He said he'd never seen it this busy before. "People gotta eat!" he laughed, recognizing that people have no food at home or else no electricity to cook it.

My friend Amber let me shower at her place yesterday, and while I was still there Amber's mother drove in from Springfield to shower as well. Amber's mother works in a sales office, and she said her boss called that day (yesterday) to say the sales office will finally be open the next morning (which will be this morning) only because they got their hands on a generator. She said the boss said the generator can only carry the load of the computers and phones, and that the heat will be sparse, so dress warmly, bring gloves and hats and he would provide hot coffee. 

The fallen trees and fallen branches have mostly been cleared from all the streets. But they are now stacked up along the sides of the roads and on people's front lawns. Every lawn has a neat (or not so neat) stack of tree limbs on it. The sound of chainsawns echoes everywhere. I see dump trucks and flatbed trucks hauling loads of tree branches =--branches still mostly covered with withering green leaves.

Schools everywhere are STILL closed, even though the power is back on for most of the school buildings. The school boards have all decided to keep the schools closed because the buses can't quite navigate the streets where some power lines are still down and where MANY trees continue to compromised the corridors where larger vehicles still can't quite navigate. And then there are the sidewalks --those schools where kids must walk to school are serviced by their respective networks of sidewalks which at the moment are buried under the tree branches that were so hastily dragged off the roads.  So until the children can safely get to and from school, no schools will be allowed to open.   

The gas lines have pretty much disappeared. Enough people topped off their tanks during those long gas lines from earlier this week, and enough additional gas stations have been restored to power again, so no more hour-long waits for gasoline with 25-car lines anymore.

I work in a nursing home at night but I do home health aid/visiting nurse work during the day. Most of my clients have cancelled my services this week because they have gone to the homes of relatives where there is power. So my days are now free. (Which is good because I am getting ready to move so I have opportunity to pack.) My friend Amber also works in a nursing home (a different one in a different town than my own place of employment). She says the backup generator only had 2 days of diesel and then it ran out. They were then operating in a crisis because that meant people's oxygen machines were no longer working. They had to get an emergency shipment of diesel to replenish their supply. Trying to get their diesel prioritized wasn't as easy as they thought. They assumed "We're a nursing home so we have to be given priority. The law says so." But the theoretical priority supposedly meant for medical facilities was a nice thought that only worked on paper in this particular situation. The truth is that the laws written to mandate diesel priorities for medical facilities did not take into account just how widespread this particular emergency would prove to be. The geographic area impacted by this disaster is just too wide. The number of diesel vendors is just too few. And the delivery system known as "just in time trucking" or "JIT trucking" means that diesel inventories all over this region were not high enough (not in October) to accommodate a sudden demand from so many emergency backup generators.  The nursing home eventually did get their emergency diesel shipment, but Amber says the heat in the building has been turned down to conserve the diesel, and that she and all her coworkers are working whiled wearing their jackets and gloves. And the elderly residents are practically in tears due to the cold they are suffering through.  Amber said they are just piling blankets onto all the residents.

Amber was never without power through this whole ordeal. She was in a lucky spot on the electrical grid. She lives in a quiet condo community with assigned parking spaces, and I have visited her there many times in the past. Finding parking at her place in the "visitor" parking spaces was never a problem. But this week, when I drove to see her, the streets of her condo community were tightly packed with parked cars. I had never seen that many parked cars in her community before. Some cars were illegally parked in front of hyrants and aprtially blocking sidewalks and driveways. I believe those excess cars were friends and relatives of condos residents who were all begging for showers and a warm place to sleep. 

I keep hearing about people dying from carbon monoxide poisoning due to either ineptly installing a hastily bought generator, or else being foolish enough to bring a hibachi into their house for heat. So far at least 5 people have died from CO poisoning.

Local stores have sold out of the following:

generators
D-cell batteries
flashlights
long underwear
jackets
gloves
hats
blankets
granola bars
bottled water
bread
milk

The big 18-wheel tractor trailers are all delivering what they can, when they can. But we are not the only region impacted by this emergency. The crisis stretches from New Jersey to Maine. And Connecticut is the hardest hit as well as the slowest to recover. Connecticut's ability to get the lights back on again is running at a glacial pace. The population concentration found in the impact zone (the entire Northeast USA) is the biggest problem. There are just too many people here, and too many of them are urban/suburban grasshoppers who have spent their whole lives relying upon the systems in place around them. 








The more nestled you are in an industrialized, modernized, metropolitan rendering of civilization, the more complacent you grow in the self-deception that your systems of support (electricity, convenience stores, diesel shipments, etc) can't possibly be compromised, or at least not for very long.



As I type this post, I am watching the news. There is anger among a lot of residents. And legislators are fielding these angry phone calls, and to appease their angry constituents, those legislators are proposing with much indignation that utility companies be held accountable for all this. [As if utilty companies are responsible for the two flukes of nature whereby a) the leaves were all quite strangely still on the trees on October 29, and b) a once-per-500 years Nor'easter dumped over a foot of snow on the entire region while those leaves were still on the tress.] Nowhere do I see outcries of "We need to educate people on how to be more self-sufficient!"  And far be it from the utility companies to propose that there be a greater push for a greater number of businesses and households to have their own emergency backup generators. 



I'll try and bring  new updates to this thread as I come across them. And anyone else here in the Northeastern USA who has stuff to add, by all means add.

« Last Edit: November 03, 2011, 11:20:23 AM by Oil Lady »