Saturday December 22, 2012

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Gusting winds wreaked havoc throughout the area Friday, including downing trees that knocked out power and blocked roads.

Sustained, strong wind blew through the area until early afternoon. Emergency responders moved from one report of a downed tree to the next throughout the day. One large tree along Park Street came down, bringing a utility pole and electric lines with it. The tree landed on the front of a car parked on the side of the street. Members of the Bennington Rural Fire Department helped control traffic with a Green Mountain Power crew worked to restore power.

As of 4 p.m., Green Mountain Power reported about 18,000 customers without electricity. There were 41 separate problems reported in Bennington that impacted 273 customers. According to GMP, 465 customers lost power in Shaftsbury, and about 300 in Arlington. Ten separate problems in Pawlet were causing more than 1,600 outages.

GMP said it could be Christmas Eve or even later before power is restored to all its customers. Baker noted that there are hundreds of individual problems, some affecting only one or two customers.

Most of the damages and power outages were reported on the west-facing slopes of the Green Mountains, although outages were reported in all 14 of the state's counties.

"Winds from this storm are much stronger than what we experienced with Superstorm Sandy and the damage is more intense," said GMP spokesman Jeremy Baker.

The wind also brought down several business signs. The signs at Rattlesnake Café and Hawkins House store on North Street were both blown away.

Meanwhile, a 19-foot tall ladder-back chair at LaFlamme's furniture store on Northside Drive collapsed from the wind. The chair was recently resurrected after a long absence and has been a popular attraction.

Owner Christopher LaFlamme said he was sorry the chair collapsed, but noted there were more serious problems resulting from the strong wind. He said the chair will be fixed and stand in front of the store again.

"I already have the pieces to fix it on order," LaFlamme said. "It does need some repairs, it didn't escape completely unscathed."

LaFlamme said the chair was due to receive additional supports Friday. "We had some hurricane-grade straps to be put on 12 hours from now, ironically," he said.

Fallen trees and downed power lines caused several road closures in Bennington throughout the day. Silver and Hillside Streets were both closed, as well as Park Street, Route 7A and Overlea Road.

Meteorologist Steve DiRienzo with the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., said the strongest gust of wind in Bennington, 44 mph, was recorded at 8 a.m. at the William H. Morse state airport. Stronger winds may have occurred in the area, however. He said gusts up to 62 mph were recorded in nearby New York. An 86-mph gust was reported on Mount Mansfield, Vermont's tallest peak.

"I know we and some damage, but that was the worst of it," he DiRienzo said. "We had some higher reports when you get just west of there in Rensselaer County."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.