GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 31, 2012

Birdseye building takes Sandy's hardest shots

Birdseye site takes storm's best shots

By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The Birdseye building, a flashpoint in one of Gloucester’s hottest political and development issues, also proved to be at the center of the damage delivered by post tropical cyclone Sandy.

Tuesday, a flatbed truck with a lift sat next to the old industrial building as crews waited to fix a large section of aluminum siding that had been peeled back like the top of a tin can Monday night.

The winds tore back a roughly 40-foot section of the structure, with some of it resting on a Fort Square utility pole. The repair crew recruited to bend the siding back in place waited until after 6 p.m. for National Grid to turn off power on Fort Square. And the power was expected to be out for nearly six hours after the utility turned it off.

The building’s owner, the Beauport Gloucester LLC group headed by New Balance owner Jim Davis and Cruiseport Gloucester’s Sheree DeLorenzo, had crews on the scene from early in the day.

“Thank God everyone’s safe and no one got hurt,” DeLorenzo said.

The old Birdseye building was one of many places where Sandy left a mark on Gloucester and Cape Ann.

When winds reached gusts of over 80 miles per hour Monday night, they knocked down dozens of trees and cut power to over 4,000 customers in Gloucester alone.

Between 8 a.m. Monday and 8 a.m. Tuesday, Police and Firefighters responded to 600 storm-related calls, according to a statement from Police Chief Leonard Campanello. Campanello’s statement added that Public Works staff responded to another 100 calls from residents or businesses.

City crews had cleared most of the debris left by the post-tropical cyclone by late Tuesday, and National Grid’s outage map listed roughly 740 outages remaining in Gloucester as of press time. The utility did not have a time frame for restoring electricity to the home that were still without it Tuesday night.

Mike Hale, Gloucester’s Public Works Director checked out the storm damage at about 3 a.m. Tuesday. He said the cloud cover had started to break by then and, aside from leaves and small branches littering city roadways, Gloucester came out of the storm in one piece.

Crews had worked through 1 a.m. Tuesday morning cutting apart fallen trees and had roads clear by the early morning. The city still has some cleanup left to do, Hale added. But even with downed trees and power outages, city officials said Gloucester dodged a bullet.

The storm hit Massachusetts’ South Coast hard around New Bedford and Fall River. And on a wider scale, there were 39 deaths attributed to Sandy as of late Tuesday, including 10 in New York City alone. As of Tuesday night, there were an estimated 8 million customers without power across the Eastern seaboard – including nearly 900,000 in New England, and over 200,000 across Massachusetts.

“We were very fortunate, we had no loss of life, no injuries to the civilian population and no injures with emergency service personnel,” Gloucester Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Eric Smith said Tuesday.

Smith, who ran the city’s Emergency Operations Center in Fuller School Monday and Tuesday, noted that Sandy — initially a Category 1 hurricane, then downgraded to a post-tropical storm and finally a post-tropical cyclone — arrived later than expected, and winds picked up to their most intense levels just after 3 p.m. on Monday. Police Chief Campanello had said Monday that winds reached a sustained 65 mph, and were gusting near 85 mph.

Smith said the city had a rash of reports of downed trees and power outages late Monday evening by about 11 p.m., when the winds started to die down.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class Sean Gross said the Coast Guard did not need to preform any rescues during the storm. Residents, he said, seemed to heed the Guard’s and the city’s advice to stay off the water.

“I think a lot of people actually listened to everything everyone was saying and stayed out of the water,” Gross said, “It was pretty quiet for the most part, people took it to heard and didn’t get too reckless.”

At 8 p.m. Monday, even the city’s emergency operations center lost power, and officials coordinated the city’s responses with hand-held radios, Smith said. Fuller School’s generator doesn’t provide enough power, in its current configuration, to run the center, Smith said. And while the city is working on that, he added, Gloucester had not received funds from a grant before the storm hit.

Wednesday, Smith said, firefighters and police return to business as usual. Residents should call the Department of Public works to report downed trees and National Grid to report power outages. Smith said the city’s next step will be tallying its responses in a request for Federal Emergency Management reimbursement.

Mayor Carolyn Kirk said the city is resuming its regular trash pickup schedule today, and will remain on it the rest of the week. City officials also noted that all school buildings “weathered the storm well” with no structural damage — and schools resumed classes Tuesday.

The DPW, meanwhile, is examining all footbridges and piers for any structural damages and anticipates that cleanup and removal of debris will take one week. And National Grid has assured city officials it will respond to and work on the remaining areas of concern. Residents are advised to call National Grid directly at 1-800-322-3223 to report power issues.

The city also had a tree service on call for the storm. Mike Hale said that helped keep public works crews moving to clear roads. The city expects to have its expenses for that contractor reimbursed with emergency management funds.

Meanwhile, with the wind and rain over, residents and business owners like Tobin Dominick, a co-owner of the Cape Ann Marina, focused Tuesday on cleaning up the mess that Sandy left behind.

Soon after the wind kicked up Monday, one of the marina docks shuddered and the pilings beneath it snapped. Dominick and a crew anchored the dock in place and rushed to secure the dozen or so sailboats attached to it.

The boats made it out in one piece. Dominick said several boats docked at the Cape Ann Marina ahead of Sandy and the extra sailboats, plus a shift in the wind cracked the pilings – five feet below the mud line.

Dominick said the pilings were put in eight or so years ago, and hadn’t shown any signs of weakening before the storm. She said the company will need to put in new pilings to repair the dock.

“It just shows how much force there was,” she said.

Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.