The cleanup from the overnight nor'easter that roared over Cape Ann into Thursday morning is likely to extend into next week given the widespread damage from winds that gusted higher than 80 mph, the city public works chief said Thursday afternoon.

Mike Hale, Gloucester's director of public works, characterized the wind-driven rain storm as an "exceptional event" and said it caused damage in almost every nook and cranny within Gloucester's 26 square miles.

"There are trees down in every ward of the city," Hale said. "Everywhere, there are limbs in wires. This is city-wide. The area is huge."

Hale said his cleanup crew of 16 has been stretched thin by the sheer number of downed limbs and trees that have to be cleared to make roadways accessible. And that, he said, does not count the widespread presence of tree limbs and full trees entangled in electrical and utility wires.

"We don't handle limbs in the lines, especially live lines," Hale said. "We leave that to National Grid. So, there's a lot still untouched as National Grid works on its highest priorities first."

The public works department's progress on Thursday also was hampered by the fact that the DPW headquarters on Poplar Street was among the more than 12,400 Cape Ann electric customers that lost power in the fierce storm. The facility still was without power as Thursday moved to late afternoon.

Hale said the majority of the physical damage throughout the city occurred on private property.

"We've seen damage to trees, cars and buildings," he said.

He also reiterated the city's policy on helping clear tree damage:

Effectively, he said, if a tree or large limbs fall from private property onto public or private ways, the property owner is responsible for full and final removal of the debris.

"We will come out and clear a path so that vehicles can get by, but that's all we do," Hale said. "The property owner is responsible for the tree and its removal. We get inundated with calls from people expecting us to remove trees that fell into the street from private property. We don't have the ability, resources and manpower to do everybody else's cleanup work." 

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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