Carlisle after dark: Tales of Hurricane Sandy power outages

by Karina Coombs

11a-KalksteinCandlelight

The Kalksteins by candlelight. (Courtesy photo)

At the height of Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, 8.1 million East Coast customers were without electricity.  While Massachusetts was spared the worst of the storm, gale force winds and heavy rains toppled trees and wires and knocked out power to 400,000 customers.  A week following the storm, NSTAR and National Grid reported a few hundred Massachusetts customers still without power, two of those in Carlisle. While some Carlisle residents did not lose power at all, most did for at least a few hours with others stretching into three or four days.  According to Linda Fantasia, Health Agent, the emergency shelter at the Carlisle School accommodated 49 people over four days, giving them a chance to charge electronic devices, obtain water, and shower and was regularly staffed by volunteers.  

What did you do when the lights went out? 

The Mosquito interviewed several Carlisle residents to find out how people prepared for Hurricane Sandy and how they adapted without electricity and water. We also posted the question online at the Carlisle Yahoo Discussion Group, “City in the Woods” and received a number of email responses. Many residents noted that they had consciously improved their storm preparedness techniques this year as a direct result of the Northeaster of October 2011 and its subsequent extended and wide spread outages. Some took advantage of Red Cross Power Outage and Hurricane Safety information found on the Town of Carlisle website or followed instructions provided by the town’s reverse 411 calls. Most families specifically mentioned that their kids loved having the lights out and spending time together playing games without the normal distractions of TVs, video games and computers in multiple rooms. For families that had outages extending beyond 48 hours there were dinners with friends and neighbors and sleepovers for their children.  Finally, and most significantly, none of the residents we spoke with sustained any damage to their homes or belongings and all acknowledge their good fortune in this regard.  

11bKC-Headlamp

Eleanor Tremblay, age 4, plays search and rescue dog during the outage. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

Next time: buy S’more ingredients

“We lost power on Monday at 3:50 p.m. exactly,” says Andrea Kalkstein of Cross Street. “I won the family pool on when it would go out. I guessed 4.”  The Kalkstein family learned from their 2011 storm experience and a three-day power outage when they neglected to fill bathtubs with extra water for toilet flushing. “We were collecting and melting snow,” recalls Kalkstein. This time around they filled the tub, depleted frozen food over the course of the weekend before the storm, cleaned all dishes and laundry and bought easy to make food. Gathering flashlights and headlamps was more of a challenge in an active household with four children ranging from five to 11. “Next time I’ll have to hide the head lamps,” says Kalkstein, noting they were a big hit with her kids. Future storm preparations for Kalkstein also include procuring S’mores ingredients for indoor campfires. During the power outage the family spent time around the fire and playing board games by candlelight. Explains Kalkstein, “We played games that all six could play. The kids loved it and thought it was fun. It was a great learning lesson: as much as [the kids] love their Wii and their toys, they like playing with us more.” 

Beating coffee beans

 with a hammer

Michelle Coleman of Cutter’s Ridge Road also had learned a few things from the previous year’s storm. Namely, she and her husband, David, remembered to add pre-ground coffee to their Hurricane Sandy shopping list. “Last year we went to the basement and looked at our camping equipment,” says Coleman. The family had a small camping stove and a French press they thought would allow them to at least make coffee if they lost power. “We forgot we buy whole bean coffee and forgot about the grinder and ended up beating coffee beans with a hammer,” says an amused Coleman.  In preparation for Hurricane Sandy, the Coleman family made sure to have food they could cook on the outdoor grill, charged their cell phones and laptops and located their car chargers. They also took some time to explain to their two children what having no power would mean. When the power did go out on Monday afternoon, the family went outside and watched the weather before grilling cheeseburgers and playing board games. Says Coleman, “It was nice to be in the same area doing the same things.”

Better over-prepared than under

Describing herself as being over-prepared, Abigail Zimmerman of Sunset Road, along with her husband, Eric, removed every item that could serve as a projectile from the yard, pulled out the non-cordless phone and took their dog on extra walks in the days leading up to the storm knowing she would not want to go out once it hit. They also purchased ten bags of ice to pack inside the freezer explaining, “A full freezer is more energy efficient and stays frozen longer.” The remaining ice was put in lasagna pans inside the refrigerator to keep it cold. In the days after the storm, Zimmerman’s four-year-old daughter became interested in looking at photos showing the storm’s devastation in other parts of the country. It became an opportunity, says Zimmerman, to show that “people matter the most, not things.”

Watching a movie in the dark

The Hedden family of East Riding Drive also did their cooking on an outdoor grill, using a wheelbarrow to “help block the wind from constantly blowing out the gas flame on the burner that was in the open,” writes Heather Hedden. Heather and her husband Tom also discovered a benefit from their computer’s uninterrupted power supply (UPS) and used its battery to power their TV and DVD player for a nighttime family movie during the height of the storm. 

Saved by a headlamp

Dr. Tiffany Rule of Canterbury Court described an unexpected power loss on the evening following the storm as the sun began to set. “My middle boy decided it would be a great opportunity to entertain his brothers. He donned a battery powered headlamp… and then began reading Homer Price by Robert McCloskey. I think our family will be repeating this tradition of a good, long read in front of the fire. Nothing is quite as relaxing as just simply slowing down,” writes Dr. Rule.

Not a generator left 

in New England

While many of the families interviewed did not own generators for a variety of reasons, many more did and generally explained it was after having their patience tested during one storm or another.  It is also worth noting that each generator owner could also provide detailed system schematics and functionality that would make any electrical engineer beam with pride. Ray Pichulo writes, “We have been in Carlisle since 1985, and that September, we were visited by Hurricane Gloria. The power was out for four days, and we were convinced of the need for a backup generator. The main reason of course is the fact that almost every household is dependent on a well, so without power, there is no water. End of decision.“  

Know where your corkscrew is

 at all times

Others became aware of the need for a generator after realizing just how many people already had them, a tell-tale sign of systemic power problems. “When we moved to Carlisle in 1975 there was a neighborhood cocktail party welcoming us,” writes former Carlisle resident, Tom Raftery. “After a while I mentioned to my wife that everyone in the room owned a generator. That was telling so we bought one… If the power was out I would start the generator and our lights would be on.  Sooner or later the doorbell would ring and people would ask if they could come in. In power outages we saw people we had not seen for quite a while. It was the social media of its day.” Raftery no longer lives in Carlisle and mentions that he is now one of the few people in his current neighborhood who have a generator. “…I anticipate should we encounter a lengthy power outage we will have a party. We always have emergency supplies of wine; they can bring the appetizers.”      ∆