Tens of thousands of Vermonters moved into their second day without electricity Tuesday, and utilities say it could be days until they restore power to everyone.
A little before noon Tuesday, on Old Creamery Road in Williston, utility workers in fluorescent yellow vests worked to repair a major transmission line that runs south into Hinesburg.
An older gentleman stopped in the middle of the road, rolled down his window, and asked a question these line workers were getting often on Tuesday: “You guys got any idea when the power might be up?”
Isaac Gillen, an operations supervisor for the Vermont Electric Cooperative, tried his best to be helpful.
“I really can’t give you a time frame - hopefully within the next day or two,” Gillen offered.
From chest freezers full of slowly thawing meat, to the loss of running water and heat, the effects of the outage are beginning to wear on the tens of thousands of Vermonters still without power.
Gillen says he gets the frustration.
“The best thing you can do is just be honest with them. You know, it’s hard, because we’re trying our hardest, but when the trees come down and we’re out here climbing poles and stuff, it’s not fast paced. It’s not fast at all,” Gillen says.
The slow going is due in part to the uniqueness of the weather event that caused all the damage.
“The characteristics of this storm were it took down so many trees across the area, so it wasn’t like a single area in a thunderstorm that got inundated with high winds and damage,” says Patty Richards, general manager at Washington Electric Cooperative.
For many utilities, the damage wrought by Sunday’s wind storm was historic. Richards says Washington Electric is dealing with more than one hundred discreet line breaks in its 41-town service territory. At its peak, 60 percent of Washington Electric’s customers were in the dark.
“It’s monumental for us. This is big. This is bigger than storm Damon in 2014,” Richards says.
Washington Electric isn’t the only utility struggling to get people back online.
“This is probably the worst storm I’ve ever seen in my 22 years as general manager,” says Ellen Burt, with Stowe Electric.
Burt says wind gusts registered as high as 110 miles per hour on Mount Mansfield. And while the substation and main transmission line are back online, nearly a quarter of the utility’s 4,200 customers still don’t have their power back.
“And there’s hundreds of trees down, so those things have to be fixed before spurs off this main line can be reenergized,” Burt says.
With so many people expected to be without power for so long, the state announced on Tuesday that it’ll be opening numerous emergency shelters across the state.
National Guard Armories in Bradford, Enosburg Falls, Lyndonville, Morrisville, St. Albans, Swanton, and Westminster will serve as daytime shelters, where people can power up their phones, or access running water. The Red Cross will open up an overnight shelter in Milton Tuesday evening.
Erica Bornemann, director of Vermont Emergency Management, says safety is the top concern now. And she says there’s one danger in particular.
“We have already had reports of people having carbon monoxide issues at their homes. And this is directly attributed to generators being run in unsafe places, as well as heating sources being run in unsafe places,” Bornemann says.
Bornemann says she’s also worried about older residents, or people with special needs, toughing it out alone in their blacked out homes. And she says if Vermonters want to know what they can do to help, they can start by checking in on neighbors who may be in need.
Washington Electric had been planning on deploying a line worker next week to assist with hurricane recovery efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Patty Richards says that deployment is now contingent on Washington Electric completing its storm restoration in Vermont, before the line worker is scheduled to depart.
Correction 5:47 p.m. A previous version of this post misspelled Erica Bornemann's first name. It has been corrected.
Correction 11:02 a.m. A previous version of this post erroneously reported that people could take showers at National Guard armories that had opened day shelters. Showers are not available at the armories.