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Blizzard causes historic power outages

By Kristen Domonell
On March 4, 2010

  • Several storms hit the Hudson Valley early last week, cancelling classes and leaving many area residents without power for numerous days. Over 150,000 customers were left in the dark from one of the largest outages in recent history. Marina Cella

Two storms lingered over New York State last week, dumping 14 inches of snow and slush onto many parts of the Hudson Valley. Not only did the storm halt much of the activity in the region, including classes held at Marist, is also left numerous residents stuck in their homes, many without power. According to a report on Central Hudson's Web site, 150,000 of its customers were without electricity on Friday, Feb. 26 - the largest outage event in the utility company's century-old history. Of that total, 2,462 town and city of Poughkeepsie customers were without power.

The largest outage previous to this occurred in August 2003 when 100,000 Central Hudson customers were without power. This was the result of an energy grid failure in Ohio that led to a blackout in large portions of the Midwest, Northeast United States, and Ontario, Canada, affecting 50 million people.

Sophomore Maggie Barbera lost power in her apartment 20 minutes away in Wappingers Falls, where she said half the town was without power. Barbera was without electricity from Thursday, Feb. 25 at 10 p.m. until the following Monday morning.

"It was ridiculous," Barbera said. "Half the time I didn't have running water. I had no water heater, no shower, no way to check homework online, no Internet, no way to charge my phone."

Barbera said aside from the cold and inconvenience, the power outage left her struggling to complete all the homework she would have done since Thursday on Monday night. Fortunately, though, she said losing power wasn't as huge of an issue as it could have been, as classes were cancelled all day Friday.

The heavy, wet snow forced Marist officials to cancel various classes Tuesday through Friday of last week. According to John Gildard, director of safety and security, a lot is taken under consideration when making the decision to call off school.

"Early in the morning I get up and I call several police departments,"?Gildard said. "I call the Dutchess County Highway Department. We have our own weather service that we subscribe to. Plus, I check and the national weather service online, so I get the information from all those different places. Then I talk to the Registrar and I discuss the class schedule."

Gildard said if the weather is extremely bad, administration will decide to close school for the day, but if the Highway Department tells him the roads are going to be clear by 9 a.m., the decision is made during the day, depending on what actually ends up happening with the weather.

"There is a process," Gildard said. "We try to do the best we can. We're at the mercy of the weatherman, and he or she is not always right, but we try to make the best decision. We also have to be wary of the number of hours required for class to certify the class. We can't be willy- nilly either, and cancel at the first snowflake. We try to balance all of those things together and come out with an educated guess."

Gildard also said they consider weather conditions, road conditions, the ability of faculty and staff to get here to support the students who come, and the commuters who have to get here by car.

Besides the need for some classes to be cancelled, Marist was not as affected as the surrounding area. This is because all of the college's electricity runs through underground wires that can't be weighed down by snow, according to Justin Butwell, director of the physical plant at Marist.

In the event that Marist ever does lose power, Butwell said there are seven emergency generators that can cover emergency lighting and "essential services" in Fontaine, Dyson, Lowell Thomas, Champagnat, Sheahan, Leo, Midrise, the McCann Center, Tenney Stadium, the library, and the student center.

"If the power went out we have a very close relationship with Central Hudson and we would work with them to restore power as quickly as possible," Butwell said. "Being a community of over 5,000, [Marist] would be a very high priority to be restored."

There are no generators on the East side of campus, but Butwell said most of the townhouses are on the same electrical grid as Saint Francis Hospital.

"[The hospital] is the number one priority, so they're actually a lot safer than the others," he said.

Matt Spillane contributed reporting.

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