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Utilities get their share of thanks and abuse

WINDHAM - Utility crews trying to put the finishing touches on a new power pole Wednesday received thanks from grateful customers and some frustrated venting from those who felt two days in the dark was too long to wait.

Hurricane Sandy left thousands of New Hampshire residents without power when gale-force winds swept across the state, leaving a tangled mess of lines, poles and other equipment.

"It's not as easy as flipping a switch," said Dustin Ryan, safety and methods supervisor for Public Service of New Hampshire.

Ryan and PSNH safety supervisor Doug MacDonald stood out in their fluorescent vests near a repair site along North Lowell Road, west of Interstate 93. A driver leaving an upscale subdivision stopped to ask if the power would be back by Wednesday night.

"That's what we're hoping. We're working on it," MacDonald said.

The man at the wheel of the silver Nissan shook his head.?"Bastards," he said, and sped off.

MacDonald, who retired about six months ago but came back to PSNH to help with the Sandy cleanup, said usually the public response is more positive. "When you're a line crew, people are happy to see you," he said. "They see you're working on their problem. When they don't know what's going on, there's the frustration."

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, about 33,000 PSNH customers remained without power, compared to 137,000 at the height of the storm. PSNH called in crews from Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio and Quebec to assist with the cleanup. MacDonald said even crews from out of state are difficult to find because the storm covered so much of the East Coast.

Overnight, however, repair crews were able to restore power to another 20,000 PSNH customer. Still, aat 6:30 a.m. Thursday, 13,773 households and businesses remained off PSNH's grid while another 2,141 N.H. Electric Co-Op customers were in the dark.

About 3,000 of those without power reside in Derry and Londonderry, while 34 percent or 1,573 PSNH customers in Weare were still waiting for the lights to come one.

MacDonald lives in Windham and had also been without power since about 4:30 p.m. Monday, when the storm took out a substation near Hudson. A pine tree roughly 4 feet in diameter at the trunk snapped and fell across North Lowell Road, wiping out the power pole and all the lines attached.

Lineman Keith Macneil of Londonderry was working on raising the lines on the new Windham pole Wednesday. He said once the work in New Hampshire is done, he expected to be sent to Connecticut, where the damage was much more severe and comparable to what Granite State residents endured in 2008.

"The ice storm of '08 was probably the worst," Macneil said. "This one, you've got wire down, maybe a couple of broken poles. In '08, everything was broken. There was pretty much nothing left."

Sandy struck New Hampshire exactly one year to the day after a surprise winter storm blanketed the state with heavy snow, snapping trees and branches and also causing prolonged power outages.

Bernadette Sanders, who lives down the road from the repairs going on at the new pole, said her family also went without power for two days after the heavy snow hit last Oct. 29 and was checking into a hotel when the service was restored.

She said during this latest outage, her family has been coping by going to the gym for showers, then coming home and hoping for a response when they tried the lights again.

"It's an inconvenience but not a tragedy," she said, noting, "we're not on the Jersey Shore."

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Doug Alden may be reached at dalden@unionleader.com.

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