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Mass. cleans up after escaping full brunt of storm

FREETOWN, Mass. (AP) — Relieved that the state escaped the full brunt of Sandy's fury, Massachusetts officials offered a hand Tuesday to hard-hit states in the region while monitoring the progress of utilities restoring power at home.

Gov. Deval Patrick said damage assessment teams found no evidence of any serious infrastructure damage, though there were plenty of toppled trees and damage to individual homes and businesses. As of Tuesday evening, the number of Massachusetts customers without power had dropped to about 155,000, compared with some 400,000 at the height of the storm on Monday.

"We feel very fortunate, particularly as you look at some of the scenes and read some of the reports from New York and New Jersey and Connecticut," the governor said. He has been in touch with officials in those states to see what Massachusetts can do to help.

The Massachusetts National Guard sent two helicopters and flight crews to New Jersey on Tuesday to assist with search and rescue efforts. Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey said the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was also prepared to offer technical assistance to New York City, if needed, to help restore service to its flooded subway system.

Many schools in Massachusetts remained closed, but residents in south coastal areas were mostly relieved that the 6-foot storm surge caused by the powerful hybrid storm did not cause more extensive damage.

Sarah Whittey, of Freetown, watched nervously as water from the Assonet River rose behind her home, a historic house built in 1720 and known to local residents as "Aunt Kate's House."

"We have five steps in the back. When it came up to the second step, we were going to leave, but we saw it hold there so we decided to stay," Whittey said Tuesday.

"There were some prayers said on that back deck last night ... family first, friends, strangers, then property. We were very, very lucky."

At Grandpa's Place, a variety store in Assonet, the parking lot was flooded when the river surged over its banks Monday evening and poured into nearby yards. Owner Liz Borges said she and her husband borrowed a truck and started loading up goods from the store.

"We loaded everything — beer, wine, soda, candy — everything," Borges said. "As soon as we got everything loaded, the water started to go back down. We didn't lose anything."

Utility crews were working around the clock to restore power.

A spokesman for NStar said the company hoped to fully restore power by Thursday night. National Grid said it expected to have three-quarters of its remaining outages restored by midnight Thursday and most of the rest by midnight Friday.

Dick Ellis, a retired teacher from Whitman, lost his electricity at about 4 p.m. Monday and was still without power more than 24 hours later.

"We get so dependent on electricity; it's hard to do without it," Ellis said. "Last night, we were reading newspapers and books by lantern but then that started flickering from a low battery, so we went to bed at 9:30."

Patrick said during a briefing at the state's emergency management center in Framingham that 161 people spent Monday night in shelters around Massachusetts. Officials had opened enough shelters statewide to accommodate thousands, if necessary.

Truck driver Chris Marrero, 31, spent the night in a Red Cross shelter in New Bedford after the storm's high winds ripped the chimney and part of the roof off his apartment building and sent bricks and other debris crashing through a skylight in his neighbor's apartment.

No one was injured, but the building's roof was badly damaged and the city deemed the building unsafe. Residents, including Marrero and his wife and their 6- and 10-year-old sons, were evacuated and most spent the night at a shelter.

While Marrero said he felt unsettled staying at the shelter, his sons compared their stay to camping and "a big sleepover." He was just grateful no one was injured.

"It could have been way worse," he said.

Transportation was also returning to normal around the state. Service on the MBTA, which shut down Monday, was fully restored by Tuesday with the exception of the D Branch of the Green Line, where buses were substituting for trolleys.

Ferry service also resumed to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

There were no reports of damage to runways at Boston's Logan International Airport, Patrick said. But commercial flight disruptions were expected to continue as a result of problems caused by the storm elsewhere along the East Coast.

Communities were thinking ahead to Halloween, with some pushing trick-or-treating and related festivities to later in the week and others saying they could go ahead Wednesday.

The latter included Salem, Mass., where the famed witch trials took place in 1680. About 50,000 costumed revelers are expected to show up for a day of events culminating with a fireworks display over Salem Harbor.

The celebration concludes a monthlong "Haunted Happenings" celebration that generates approximately $25 million in economic activity for the city.

The storm caused some power outages and forced some attractions in the city to close temporarily, but Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem, the city's tourism agency, said all were expected to be open Wednesday

"We are lucky, so very lucky," she said.


Salsberg reported from Framingham.

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