BLACKSTONE — Main Street in this village-like outpost on the state line usually has everything a busy mother of two needs, but lately it just hasn't been the same.
“You can't do anything in Blackstone,” said Tara Rogala as she pulled up to the drive-through at Dean Bank. “You can't do laundry. You can't do groceries. I have to drive 20 minutes to Woonsocket to do anything. Not having power with two small kids isn't easy.”
While most neighboring communities were faring better, much of Blackstone was well into its third day without electricity Wednesday in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene. Traffic lights on the main drag were starting to come alive at mid-day, but large swaths of Main Street still had no power, and many merchants, big and small, still had “closed” signs in their windows.
In the dimmed aisles of Park 'n' Shop, the local supermarket, workers were busy hustling perishables into the Dumpster out back, and the dank smell of an idle refrigerator permeated the store.
“Tons and tons and tons” of food had to be discarded before it went bad, a worker said. “It wasn't fun,” he said. “It's sad seein' it.”
In the Park n' Shop Plaza, with about a dozen stores and restaurants, just about everything was closed – the gift shop, Dunkin' Donuts, the Chinese restaurant, all without power.
The only place open for business was Dean Bank, which was running on gasoline-fueled generator power.
“I don't like it,” said Peg Theriault, another drive-through customer at the bank.
But life in the blackout zone has its perks. “One morning a friend picked me up and we went to the hospital for breakfast,” said Theriault.
For friends with electric-powered water heaters, Theriault says her Castle Heights condo had become a go-to destination for hot showers.
She doesn't have any lights or cooktop, but she does have a gas-powered hot water heater, and she doesn't mind the company.
But if there's a sunny side to this spell of forced sacrifice it's already starting to go dark for most residents. The bad news is, it might stay dark a bit longer.
As of yesterday afternoon, National Grid said 70 percent of its 3,778 customers in town were still without power. It could be midnight Sunday before power is fully restored, according to the company's Web site.
A spokeswoman for the company said the ETR – Estimated Time of Recovery, in utility jargon – is gauged according to how long it will take to restore power to the very last of the affected customers, so most will see the lights flash on earlier.
“I ask everybody to just have patience,” says Town Administrator Daniel M. Keyes. “Today's a better day than Monday or Tuesday, when nobody knew where they were.”
A resident of Springfield, which is still struggling to recover from from a rare tornado earlier this summer, Keyes said Irene packed a comparatively gentler wallop than the blow his hometown took, but it was still mighty inconvenient.
“Nobody got hurt, that's the big thing,” said the town administrator.
While much of the town is serviced by public water, many residents draw water from backyard wells. Without power, they can't flush toilets, take showers – even cold ones – or wash dishes. The town has been pitching in as much as possible by making water and ice available at the fire station next to the Municipal Center on Saint Paul Street, said Keyes.
Like Mother Nature herself, it turns out, the power grid is an equal opportunity discriminator. While the traffic lights suddenly flashed on again a block away, the Municipal Center was still operating on generator power Wednesday afternoon. The juice gets the lights and the computers on, but it's not powerful enough to crank up the air conditioning, so it was warm and stuffy in the building, and there were more doors and windows open than usual.
For Blackstone and nearby Millville, Irene packed a punch similar to that of neighboring Blackstone Valley cities and towns: Felled trees and snapped limbs, downed power lines and a nearly total loss of power, at least upon the arrival of the storm early Sunday morning. In Millville, National Grid said that over a third of its 1,264 customers were still without power Wednesday afternoon.
For Millville, the ETR is the same as Blackstone, midnight Sunday, the company said.