BARNSTABLE — During a meeting with Gov. Charlie Baker at the Barnstable County complex Wednesday, Cape Cod legislators praised the response of rescue personnel and utility crews during Tuesday’s nor’easter, but also called for improvements to the region’s power grid.
The meeting focused on the massive number of power outages across the region, with more than 124,000 electric customers still without electricity at one point on Wednesday afternoon. About 150,000 lost power during the nor’easter that pummeled the Cape over the first weekend in March.
"We have a lot of our constituents in the dark, in the cold," said state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro. "That’s very concerning, especially given our demographics here."
Barnstable County was hit harder by this storm than any other part of the state, and the loss of power has caused disruptions for schools, families, businesses and other operations, Baker said.
"That has huge consequences for almost everything," he said.
Another major problem was the loss of cellphone service for AT&T users, who still were without service Wednesday, said state Rep. William Crocker, R-Centerville.
State Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, an AT&T user herself, said she couldn’t send or receive calls and texts in most parts of the Cape Wednesday. But loss of cell service can be more than just an inconvenience, especially when a cellphone is a person’s only means of communication, she said.
"For people who maybe no longer have a landline, it’s a very dangerous thing when the cell service goes down," she said after the meeting.
An AT&T spokeswoman said on Tuesday that the storm had damaged the company's infrastructure and technicians were working to restore service, but didn't provide any additional details on Wednesday.
Peake said she’s frustrated that Cape residents lose power so frequently during storms.
"I continue to be disappointed that Eversource can’t provide reliable electricity to Cape Cod," she said.
Many residents, who already struggle to afford the cost of living here, feel the need to purchase generators to ensure that they’ll have steady electricity, she said.
"It is just an additional financial burden on homeowners on the Cape," she said.
Peake said she also feels that Eversource fails to give accurate estimates for when power will be restored, making it difficult for people to plan how they will respond to the storm.
As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Eversource estimated that power on Martha’s Vineyard would be restored by Thursday, and on Cape Cod by midnight Friday, according to a tweet from the company. Since the blizzard began the company had restored power to 300,000 homes and businesses as of about 6 p.m. Wednesday, according to a statement from Eversource.
“We understand how difficult it is being without power and we’re working nonstop to get power back for everyone affected by this latest blast of winter,” Eversource Vice President of Electric Operations Doug Foley said in the statement. “We’re using helicopters and off-road track vehicles to quickly identify damaged lines as well as off-road track vehicles to check for other locations that need repair. This is an all-out effort with an army of crews working to restore power as quickly and safely as possible.”
The speed of the power restoration during these storms had been unprecedented, given the volume of homes without power, said Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew.
“The work that goes into those restorations takes a great effort,” he said. “It’s been a very taxing and stressful time.”
But for those still living without power, the cold has been difficult to endure.
"I was about to go digging around for gloves, that’s how cold it is," said Jacquelyn Cort, 71, who lives on Queen Anne Road in Harwich and lost power Tuesday afternoon.
Cort said she’s mostly concerned about her dog, a 7-year-old Havanese, who’s been wearing a coat around the house.
"I’m a little scared," said Cort, who lives alone with her dog. "But I’m tough. I’ve been widowed 38 years. I never ask anybody for help. That’s just not my nature."
Jason Kokosinski, 45, who was at the county complex Wednesday sledding with his children, ages 10 and 7, said it felt warmer on the snow that it did in his house in Centerville.
"This is a good distraction for us," he said.
Kokosinski said his house lost power at around 3 p.m. Tuesday. He also lost cell service for awhile and had to find a store with Wi-Fi in order to place calls.
Cape leaders called on Eversource and cellphone carriers to provide more reliable service to customers in the area.
"You have to build your utility to withstand whatever the conditions are where you have your utility," said state Rep. Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich.
James Hunt, senior vice president of Eversource, said after the meeting that part of the agency’s efforts to reinforce the grid include tree-trimming and vegetation management and in some cases putting power lines underground.
Photo Gallery: Blizzard aftermath
To prepare for the future, each town in the state should create a municipal vulnerability preparedness plan to identify where potential hazards lie and what can be done to improve resiliency before the next event, Beaton said.
The state can provide money to communities to hire consultants and work on developing strategies to better mitigate the problems they face, such as coastal erosion, Beaton said.
Those facing another cold night without power are taking things one day at a time.
"There’s a lot of people that are alone," Cort said. "It gets frightening."
— Follow Madeleine List on Twitter: @madeleine_list.