As the remnants of yet another tropical storm lashed town hall Tuesday night, Bedford officials were taking the measure of their earlier unwelcome visitor, Irene.
“Overall,” Supervisor Lee V.A. Roberts said of Irene’s Aug. 28 Sunday punch, “I think we came through it . . . better than some others.”
Indeed, while that tropical storm knocked down trees, cutting power to thousands of residents, flooded dozens of town roads and denying access for a time to Northern Westchester Hospital, Irene’s lethal fury was felt far more acutely in communities both far north and south of here.
Still, some residents—in interviews in the immediate aftermath of the storm as well as in e-mails reacting to its coverage—complained of extended power outages in Bedford and what they called a lack of communication from the town during the blackout. None of them brought those complaints to Tuesday’s post-mortem, part of the regular meeting of the town board.
Roberts said they tried to use all of the communications at their disposal but would consider looking into additional means should a crisis such as Irene occur again. As they reflect upon their response, they may explore using radio, and social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.
“We have also talked about distributing flyers to remote areas, or posting notices on our community bulletin boards and in the libraries,” she added.
Roberts said she understood their frustration with the town’s two electric providers, Con Edison and New York State Electric & Gas. NYSEG, which at one point reported that almost three-quarters of its 6,629 Bedford customers were without power, was singled out for the public’s wrath. But Roberts, while noting residents’ inclination to “castigate” the utility, said, “I feel they did their best under the circumstances.”
Public Works Commissioner Kevin Winn and others pointed out why any power loss attributable to a fallen tree carries with it an unavoidable jurisdictional delay: A crew from the affected utility must first ensure that power is turned off to the downed wires. Then, a tree-clearing crew must remove the tree and limbs, at least enough to free those wires. Finally, utility workers have to repair the wires, transformers and other parts of the distribution system enroute to restoring power.
Councilman Chris Burdick said, “The resident in the house without power may not see what’s going on, what’s keeping power from being restored.”
Winn and Police Chief William Hayes said Irene’s long trek across the Atlantic and up the East Coast helped both the town and residents prepare for her arrival. “We appreciate all the efforts of the Police Department,” Roberts told Hayes after his report to the town board. “They [the police officers] were terrific. . . . We’re very grateful to all our town employees.”
Local volunteers turned out in force as well. The ambulance corps and fire departments responded collectively to over 200 calls during the storm and the days afterward, assisting police, pumping out basements, and providing emergency medical services.
Councilman David Gabrielson, who inspected storm damage with Hayes, added his praise for those who assisted, saying, “Everyone really put in long hours to make this as painless as possible.”
Winn, in his report to the board, said town highway employees as well as Bedford’s tree service, All American Tree Care of White Plains, were brought in early Sunday to prepare for Irene’s arrival. Roberts said the town will seek reimbursement for that additional cost and others, all still being calculated, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
A FEMA center, where individual people, households and businesses can apply for disaster aid, opened its doors this morning at the Little Theater in the Westchester County Center on Tarrytown Road (Route 119). The center will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. It joins dozens of others dotting the East Coast, where Irene is blamed for more than 40 deaths and billions of dollars in damage.