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Superstorm Sandy takes out power across Concord, state

  • Sisters Jeanne (right) and Audrey (left) Martin brace themselves in the winds from Hurricane Sandy on Hampton Beach Monday, October 29, 2012. They drove out to Hampton beach from Salisbury with their father who was waiting for them in his car.<br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Sisters Jeanne (right) and Audrey (left) Martin brace themselves in the winds from Hurricane Sandy on Hampton Beach Monday, October 29, 2012. They drove out to Hampton beach from Salisbury with their father who was waiting for them in his car.
    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Philip Crowell of Exeter retrieves the outboard motor and oars from his boat in Hampton Harbor as New Hampshire braces for Hurricane Sandy;  Monday, October 29, 2012. <br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Philip Crowell of Exeter retrieves the outboard motor and oars from his boat in Hampton Harbor as New Hampshire braces for Hurricane Sandy; Monday, October 29, 2012.
    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Teenagers lean into the winds of Hurricane Sandy at Hampton Beach; Monday, October 29, 2012. <br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Teenagers lean into the winds of Hurricane Sandy at Hampton Beach; Monday, October 29, 2012.
    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Tyler Griebel reaches out to Erin Murphy in Hampton Beach as New Hampshire braces for Hurricane Sandy;  Monday, October 29, 2012. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Tyler Griebel reaches out to Erin Murphy in Hampton Beach as New Hampshire braces for Hurricane Sandy; Monday, October 29, 2012.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Sisters Jeanne (right) and Audrey (left) Martin brace themselves in the winds from Hurricane Sandy on Hampton Beach Monday, October 29, 2012. They drove out to Hampton beach from Salisbury with their father who was waiting for them in his car.<br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Philip Crowell of Exeter retrieves the outboard motor and oars from his boat in Hampton Harbor as New Hampshire braces for Hurricane Sandy;  Monday, October 29, 2012. <br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Teenagers lean into the winds of Hurricane Sandy at Hampton Beach; Monday, October 29, 2012. <br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Tyler Griebel reaches out to Erin Murphy in Hampton Beach as New Hampshire braces for Hurricane Sandy;  Monday, October 29, 2012. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

More than 200,000 New Hampshire homes and businesses were plunged into darkness last night as gusting winds and rain ushered in a weakened Hurricane Sandy, and it wasn’t clear whether the worst was over.

For hours last night, the number of power outages continued to climb, and the winds - predicted to reach up to 60 mph - were expected to last until morning. More than 140 roads across the state had closed, and 100 National Guard troops were on standby, ready to deploy.

Officials didn’t estimate how long it would take for power to be restored but warned residents against being too optimistic.

“We’re hoping we’re at or near the peak, and we get on the other side of it, but it’s entirely dependent on Mother Nature,” said Martin Murray, spokesman for Public Service of New Hampshire, which was reporting more than 128,000 customers without power last night.

The company - which reported about 125,000 outages during last September’s Tropical Storm Irene - planned to work throughout the night to restore power, Murray said.

But “I think it will really require daylight to have an effective grasp on what the totality of the problem is,” he said. “We have to know how many personnel do we need to fix the problem, and what do we have.”

Gov. John Lynch, who declared a state of emergency yesterday morning and told residents to stay off the roads, last night asked President Obama to issue a federal emergency declaration for all 10 of the state’s counties, citing the estimated scope of the damage and the costs of the severe weather events that have hit New Hampshire in recent years, including Irene.

The state and local governments “have expended millions in disaster response costs in the past year,” Lynch said in his letter to Obama. “Many of the areas hardest hit by these prior severe weather events are now being significantly impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The impact of Hurricane Sandy, in fact, is anticipated to exceed the impact in New Hampshire of Tropical Storm Irene.”

As of 10:30 p.m. yesterday, 133,568 PSNH customers were without power, while 36,531 Unitil customers - including nearly 46 percent of customers in the Concord area - were in the dark. Liberty Utilities reported 8,130 outages, and the New Hampshire Electric Co-op reported 22,383.

Heavy winds made it difficult for line crews to restore power, company officials said. “Generally, if you get up into the 40 mph wind category, it may be too dangerous at that time to get a bucket aloft,” Murray said.

Unitil spokesman Alec O’Meara said the company was focused last night on responding to reports of downed wires.

“We will be restoring power where conditions allow, but our primary focus will be to assist the police and fire in maintaining public safety,” O’Meara said in a statement.

Once safety concerns were resolved, crews would shift their attention to damage assessment, “leading up to the formal assessment phase beginning in the morning,” O’Meara said.

In Concord, stoplights were out on North State and South Main streets last night, and Main Street storefronts sat dark. But while power outages appeared to be widespread, the damage wasn’t, said fire Chief Dan Andrus.

“It’s kind of much more like a Monday evening than a hurricane night,” Andrus said. “We expected that at 4 p.m. it was really going to inundate us. . . . But we’ve had little flurries of calls, nothing tremendously serious.”

Ten roads were closed last night due to falling trees, but five reopened with the help of workers from the city’s general services department, Andrus said. No injuries had been reported, he said.

“I think people are being cautious, doing what was advised” and not driving, Andrus said. “As a result, we’re not having any major injuries.”

While much of the city was quiet, some businesses remained open last night. Inside the South Street Market, Jim Bashios sat in the glow of a TV and one lamp, watching the news while keeping an eye on the shop.

“I’m just here babysitting my coolers,” Bashios said, gesturing with his flashlight. “They’re on gas. Just to keep everything cool.”

Before the storm hit, it had been a busy day, Bashios said. “I’m out of D batteries,” he said, adding that people bought “beer. Lots of beer. And candles.”

At Checkmate Pizza on Washington Street, the phones kept ringing last night. Cody Goff, who was delivering pizzas, estimated a 50 percent increase in business last night.

“I think they’re afraid to go anywhere, so they want us to come to them,” Goff said. The roads hadn’t been bad, he said: “You just gotta drive safe.”

Despite the winds, some residents did venture into the storm last night, seeking refuge and light. “We came here because power’s out at our place,” said Emily Wible, who had dinner at the Panera on Fort Eddy Road with her husband and four of their children.

Wible, who lives on North State Street, said she and her family were driving downtown when they saw the rest of the street’s power go out. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, are you kidding me,’” she said. “We never lose power. But we did today.”

With schools canceled yesterday, Wible was waiting to find out whether her children would remain at home another day. “I haven’t allowed myself to go to that place yet,” she said with a laugh.

Concord and Merrimack Valley school officials said last night they hadn’t yet canceled school today - a decision that would depend on roads and power.

“At this point, all our schools still have power,” said Christine Barry, the assistant superintendent at Merrimack Valley. “But it’s still early.”

Across the state, 14 emergency shelters were open or on standby last night. Katya Brennan of the state Department of Safety said the standby shelters would open based on demand.

Brennan said she wasn’t aware of any storm-related injuries reported last night.

(Maddie Hanna can be reached at 369-3321 or mhanna@cmonitor.com.)

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