When Andy Shealy of North Andover went to bed Wednesday night, it was still raining. By the time he awoke, a half-foot of snow had fallen, a tree in his front yard had split and he had no power.
As he cleared snow off his roof Thursday morning with a roof rake amid the snow globe-like flurry of flakes that continued to fall, he triaged his options: figure out how to safely cut down the tree without knocking the power lines down, clear the heavy, wet snow off his roof to prevent leaking, and, if he has to, try to get some work done from home.
“You don’t have a chainsaw do you?” he asked. “I’m trying to figure out what to do about this tree, and I’m trying to figure out work.”
The nor’easter that started as a whimper Wednesday delivered a bang overnight, walloping the region with heavy, wet snow that weighed down trees and sent branches crashing down onto streets and utility lines. Thousands across the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire awoke to darkness; in North Andover, up to 90 percent of the town was without power Thursday.
Shealy, a real estate attorney from North Andover, said he could normally work from home, but he’s been without power since midnight Thursday.
“When you go to go to bed and it’s raining out, you think it’s not that big a deal. Then you wake up and there’s a foot of snow and this happens,” he said, referring to the fallen tree strewn across his yard.
Downed trees and wires were everywhere, some roads rendered impassable well into the day Thursday as crews had to clear debris before the streets could be plowed. The combination of blocked streets and the lack of electricity led schools, municipal offices and buildings across the region to close Thursday.
Merrimack Valley YMCA branches that typically offer full-day care for children when schools close for snow days were unable to do so Thursday due to power outages. The Methuen and Andover/North Andover branches remained in the dark Thursday, while the Lawrence location was able to open at noon, though too late for the child care program.
“Normally we try to be open for our working families, especially when school is canceled, those families are relying on us for care so they can get to work,” said Merrimack Valley YMCA COO Frank Kenneally, adding, “But with the lack of power it just gave us no choice.”
Matt Fitzgerald, who owns and operates Mann Orchards in Methuen with his family, said “Mother Nature dropped a very unwanted gift” with this latest nor’easter, the second to hit the region in a week.
The Fitzgeralds started the snow removal process around their Pleasant Valley Street farm store about 4 a.m., and it was “bad, very bad,” Fitzgerald said. They started reaching out to employees, many of whom were without power and in areas hard-hit by the storm.
“We didn’t want them to have to ‘push their luck’ and try and make it out,” Fitzgerald said in an email. So even though the farm store had electricity and its parking lot was clear, the family decided not to open for the day.
Across the way at The Loop, group after group of people walked up to the doors of the AMC movie theater, yanking on the handle only to find the doors locked. Signs said the theater was closed until further notice due to the weather, though the lights appeared to be on inside.
It wasn’t so much an electricity problem that kept the movie theater shuttered through the early afternoon, but the inability for some employees to traverse the roads to get to work, an employee said.
Joan Delahanty and her daughters Emma, 15, and Lily, 13, stood outside the doors at a loss. They had trekked to Methuen from Newburyport — where they had no power at home and no school for the day — for some food and a feature film. The Methuen theater was among the last in the area still playing their anticipated flick, “The Greatest Showman.”
They headed to the movie theater after lunch at Fuddruckers, thinking it was safe because they’d called earlier in the morning and received assurance it was open, only to find out when they reached the doors that wasn’t the case. As the family stood for a few minutes chatting with a reporter, an employee opened the door and said the theater hoped to open at 2:30 p.m.
“We’ll regroup,” Joan Delahanty said. “We’ll get something at Starbucks and regroup.”
Live wires were strewn across several Methuen streets Thursday morning. By the early afternoon, massive trunks still hung down over portions of Jackson Street, a main thoroughfare near the high school, their branches spilling into the road and causing motorists to have to veer around them. A portion of the street further south remained closed where a pole had fallen onto wires, coming to rest against a house.
In other areas of the city, entire sections of old trees lay strew across pristine snow-covered lawns, snapped branches hung precariously over utility wires and stuck out of snow piles at odd angles, dark twigs against the bright, white ground.
Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire residents, well acquainted with snow and downed power lines, tend to know what to do when disaster strikes.
Jose Alicea stood on his Jackson Street stoop in Methuen Thursday morning, where a utility pole leaned precariously close to his apartment.
When asked what happened, he looked up from his phone as he fielded calls and texts, and just shrugged.
“Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t,” Alicea said.
His building at 108 Jackson St. actually had power, because the lines looped behind his building to the one behind him.
Alicea didn’t seem too bothered by the inconvenience of the power lines hanging low over his car and blocking the driveway. He said he’s been in this position before. The utility pole across the street is brand new, having been put in following the now-infamous October rain and windstorm that similarly brought down power lines and knocked out power to thousands. In his neighborhood, it was out for weeks.
In Haverhill, Bruce Merrill, the owner of the barbershop, Clip Joint, turned the heat on at his shop at 8 a.m. but by the afternoon, he’d only cut two heads of hair. But he was glad to just be in business Thursday in the shop he has owned for almost 45 years.
Merrill said he went to almost all of the drive-thru coffee shops in Haverhill to find a coffee that morning, only to find the one’s he visited closed due to power outages.
“I asked my girlfriend if she’d lend me five bucks to get a coffee. I was waiting in the line at Heavn’ly Donuts across the river behind a guy at the window,” said Merrill. “I told him it was probably closed and asked him to move so I could get out.”
He said he eventually grabbing a coffee from a gas station in Lafayette Square: “After looking for an hour, I’d take coffee from anywhere.”
The Dunkin’ Donuts on Route 114 northbound in Lawrence was also mobbed midday Thursday by those looking for their coffee fix.
In Derry, Island Pond Road resident Jessica Bernard said midday she still had no power.
“There are transmission lines down at the end of the road,” she said, “towards Route 111 and it’s causing branches to catch fire.”
Several businesses and town buildings also had delayed openings Thursday, including the Grind Rail Trail Cafe in downtown Derry, Derry Public Library and Londonderry’s Town Hall. Aroma Joe’s coffee shop on Manchester Road served up free coffee to local plow drivers during the snowstorm.
An entire neighborhood in Andover was without power and residents of Lucerne Drive were trapped by a fallen tree at the only entry to their street.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Cliff Martin of 10 Lucerne Drive. “We lose power at least half a dozen times a year.”
Martin’s wife, Jane Martin, claims that during the October storm that left thousands across the Merrimack Valley without power, National Grid actually forgot about their street. It took over four days for power to be restored.
“Last time we were out because they forgot about us,” Jane Martin said. “They legitimately forgot about us. Can you tell I’m not happy with National Grid? We’re used to it at this point.”
“It doesn’t make it right,” Cliff Martin said.
According to Jane Martin, a group of men from the neighborhood had thought about trying to move the branches and tree themselves. They were told not to because of live wires.
“We’re kind of stuck here,” said Jim Kerry of 25 Lucerne Drive. “Luckily I can take the day off work, but I would like to maybe get out and go someplace where there is electricity and it’s warm.”
“We all come out and check each other’s driveways,” said Jen O’Donohue of 32 Lucerne Drive. “One of my neighbors actually brought Lego sets over for the kids. It sort of makes the day brighter.”
Laura Miller of 6 Lucerne Drive was concerned that her husband was not feeling well.
“People do need to get out,” Miller said. “My husband’s actually not feeling well. I’d like to go out and get him some cough medicine and things like that.”
When neighbor Bonnie Spurr heard that Miller’s husband wasn’t feeling well, she called a friend on Cheever Street who offered to drive him to a hospital. She met him at the end of the street.
One of Spurr’s car windows was broken by a fallen tree. She says she feels lucky more serious damage didn’t happen.
“I was asleep,” Spurr said. “All I heard was the scary sound of trees coming down. One hit my house and deck. Another hit one of my car windows. We were really lucky. I believe God was protecting us, I really do.”
At the Andover Senior Center, people were looking to warm up with a hot drink.
“There’s no hot coffee at home,” said Rita Carrier of Longwood Drive. “It was beginning to get a little nippy at home with no heat. I don’t have an alternate heating thing so this is my warm meal.”
About 20 Andover residents were at the Andover Senior Center at 1 p.m. Thursday, utilizing the space as a warming and charging center. Residents were given free coffee, sandwhiches, soup, and chips at the Senior Center.
“As the day goes on and people start to realize this isn’t going to be a short outage people will start coming,” said Director of Community Services Joe Connelly.
Staff writers Kelsey Bode, Peter Francis and Julie Huss contributed to this report. Follow Zoe Mathews on Twitter @ZoeSMathews. Follow Lisa Kashinsky on Twitter @lisakashinsky.