By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – As of 9 a.m. today, Derry officials said Public Service of New Hampshire estimated about 49 percent of its customers in Derry were still without power, down from yesterday's estimate of 71 percent.
“So we are seeing improvement. We know there are about 600 PSNH crews working in the state, with some dedicated effort toward Derry. What's different about this storm from the ice storm of 2008 is that, statewide, the outages are not concentrated like they were back then,” said Ray Brown, spokesman for Derry's emergency operations team.
Police and fire crews teamed up with public works personnel and the town's civilian response teams to go out on wellness checks in the late afternoon continuing into the night, visiting about 35 homes identified as "high risk" due to residents who may be elderly or ill.
Volume of calls for service to the fire department were up 50 percent, with more than 350 calls received in the wake of the storm. An emergency shelter set up at Londonderry High School was determined to have the most beds filled statewide, with about 40 residents signed up to spend Saturday night and many more coming for a warm meal or a hot shower.
“If past is prologue, those numbers will increase as people find it harder to tough it out at home,” Brown said. There was a report of an 88-year-old man who died at home Friday, but Brown said it is not clear if it was in any way related to the storm.
Beyond making sure residents are safe and warm, Brown said the next practical matter is determining whether school is on for Monday. School superintendent Mary Ellen Hannon attended a 1 p.m. meeting with town officials Saturday. Brown said they are hoping to make a final determination following an afternoon conference call today with the district's administrative unit.
In assessing the fallout from this storm, Brown said it is equally severe as the 2008 storm that crippled the region for days, but less dramatic.
“It's like the second time around, and many of our residents know what to do. Still, the after effects for the town as a whole are just as severe, if not moreso,” Brown said.
With some exceptions, the downtown area including many businesses along Crystal Avenue were up and running yesterday, including several restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets. Otherwise, outages were widespread, particularly in the northeast and southeast reaches of town..
Gas station owner Wayne McCalvey was relieved to see the Abenaqi fuel tanker arrive just before 2 p.m. Saturday to dump another 11,800 gallons of gas at the rotary Mobil Mart.
“We have been bone dry since 7 p.m. last night,” McCalvey said yesterday. “We had people coming from as far as Salem with multiple cans.” Normally open around the clock, he reluctantly shut his doors around 8 p.m. Friday night.
Up the road at the Irving gas station on Tsienetto Road, clerk Mike Christilles said they sold a record 5,000 gallons in one hour between 7 and 8 p.m. last night.
“We didn't run out, but we had a truck come and top us off last night with 13,000 gallons, and we just got another 8,000 gallons this afternoon,” Christilles said. He and counter clerk Bob Joyner were in constant motion, keeping up with the heavy demand for gas, coffee, beer, wine, cigarettes – and milk.
“That's the only thing we ran out of, but we just got a delivery of milk, so we're back in business,” Christilles said.
Tony Lavoie was one of those customers filling up gas cans to keep the generator humming at his home in one of the hardest hit sections of town, north of Tsienetto Road, off Bypass 28.
“We actually bought our generator during the ice storm. As we got it home, our power went on so we never actually used it until now,” he said. “I highly recommend it, though. It turned out to be a great investment.”
He got his generator hooked up to the furnace in the morning, so heat was flowing at home, although his kids weren't there to enjoy the warmth.
“Actually, our neighbor hooked his generator up to the TV and DVD player so the kids in the neighborhood are all over their house watching videos,” Lavoie said.