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Nashoba Publishing/John Love
A tree blocks Route 119 on the Townsend line just before North Middlesex Regional High School. The tree, and the wires it brought down with it, forced closure of the highway on Friday. The scene was repeated throughout town as the Dec. 11 storm coated everything with ice.


TOWNSEND — Townsend was devastated by the Dec. 11 ice storm that came quietly in the night and left disaster in its wake.

People are still talking about lying in bed in the early hours of Friday, Dec. 12, listening to the sounds of ice-laden branches cracking and the crash of their fall.

For all Townsend residents, the aftermath was inconvenient. For many, it has been worse.

A week later, neighborhoods remained without power. Fortunately, last Saturday night’s frigid chill has been replaced with more tolerable temperatures, a break for those still without heat.

Amid the dark hit by Mother Nature, there were many bright spots ignited by kindness. Neighbors helped neighbors clean up and get about and a shelter was set up at Hawthorne Brook Middle School.

It turned out to be a port in the storm.

Volunteers at the shelter did everything they could to make people safe, comfortable and welcome.

Thanks to a generator and emergency preparedness, residents who had to leave their homes because of the ice storm ate, slept and socialized at the school on Brookline Road. Others came in for a hot shower.

While all of Townsend lost electricity in the ice storm, power along Route 119 was the first to be restored but not until just after noon on Sunday.

Maribeth Conrad, manager of Atwood Acres, said seven of the residents of the elderly housing complex chose to come to the shelter. Other residents went to stay with friends and family; over 20 remained at Atwood.

Sunday afternoon, Atwood Acres had electricity again and the Road Runner bus took residents home from the shelter. Hot food was expected to be brought in that evening.

Volunteers at the shelter worked hard. “They’re troopers,” Selectman Bob Plamondon said. “I’m really proud of the way the community came together.”

“Everyone needs special kudos,” Selectman Dave Funaiole added.

Tracy Alderson was mentioned frequently. Funaiole said Tracy and her kids had been at the shelter since Friday, cooking for the group.

“I just came in to cook some chicken that was going to go bad,” she said. The dedicated cafeteria worker just never got home after that.

“Tracy — she was an angel,” said Tim Manigan, the Red Cross coordinator at the shelter.

Town administrator Greg Barnes praised Manigan himself. “He’s been here every day,” he said.

The shelter opened Friday afternoon after the storm and Barnes coordinated with the fire and police chiefs to get it rolling.

Shirley Coit, Townsend’s FEMA coordinator, has always been the go-to person in an emergency of this sort. But in this case, she is in a Boston Hospital dealing with an emergency of her own.

Saturday night was the busiest, Barnes said, with over 65 people in residence. He expects the number of people being served to steadily decrease each day as power is restored in town.

The EMTs were called to assist people in difficulty at the shelter and two were transported to the hospital. Barnes said some of the town’s most vulnerable people were cared for there.

Owners were allowed to bring their pets in crates. Barnes said he made that decision because of a news story he saw about the aftermath of Katrina.

People refused to get on transportation during the New Orleans hurricane because their animals were not allowed. Barnes said he did not want people to be in danger because they cared for their pets.

Red Cross shelters do not typically allow pets but Barnes said the Townsend shelter was being run by the town with the assistance of the Red Cross, so pets were permitted to stay with their owners.

“Country Dave” Lamoureaux, of D&K Entertainment, provided entertainment Sunday night. Barnes played a movie Saturday and there were games to keep people occupied. Most of the people at the school were from Townsend but a few came in from Ashby since there was no shelter set up in that town.

Highway Superintendent Ed Kukkula reports that residents can bring storm debris, specifically brush, to the recycling center on Greenville Road. At this time the department has not made provisions for removing larger branches.

It perhaps goes without saying, that the town’s police and fire/EMS services were very active during this weeklong emergency. Roads were closed due to downed limbs and power lines and cellars were flooded. There were more than the usual number of house fires throughout the area due to unsafe heating practices, faulty wiring and the like.

Highway workers had their work cut out for them.

Town officials are planning a meeting to discuss how the emergency situation was handled. Barnes said they received praise and thanks from those who were helped, but it was a learning experience as well.

Nashoba staff contributed to this report.