By Ron Sanders, WBZ-TV

SHREWSBURY (CBS) – Unitil, the public utility that took heat for leaving many ratepayers in the cold after the 2008 ice storm in north central Massachusetts, is advising customers in that area to prepare for ice-rated power outages tomorrow.

“This time I’m going to go to a hotel,” said Dr. Robert McAuley of Ashby. Either that or he will stay with his wife in assisted living if he loses power, vowed the retired pathologist. He cared for his wife, who has Parkinson’s, when they went 12 days without power in their home after the December 2008 ice storm. They used a propane stove, candles and a car battery for heat and light.

“And very helpful neighbors who brought us food and water. Otherwise, I don’t know how we would have survived,” he explained.

WBZ-TV’s Ron Sanders reports.

Dr. McAuley still has bad feelings for Unitil, widely criticized for its slow response to the 2008 ice storm around the Fitchburg area. As a utility worker was numbering poles in the area today, Dr. McAuley pointed to one outside his home broken in the ice storm.

Customers experiencing outages can call the following toll-free numbers:

  • For Massachusetts: 1-888-301-7700
  • For the NH Capital Area: 1-800-852-3339
  • For the NH Seacoast Area: 1-800-582-7276

Fitchburg public safety officials say Unitil learned its lesson and has improved its policies and facilities to deal with storms, but Dr. McAuley said he does not feel more comfortable about that.

“Every time you get a severe wind storm, you worry about losing your electricity and that shouldn’t be,” said Dr. McAuley. He now has a wood pellet stove, but it relies on electricity, so he has a generator too.

Fitchburg Deputy Fire Chief Robert Haley went 11 days with out power after the 2008 ice storm, as did many other Fitchburg residents. But Deputy Chief Haley says Unitil is now much better prepared.

“A key thing to us is that we have a direct number to a person. We don’t get recordings anymore. During the ice storm, we were getting recordings. That was the most frustrating part. We were downstairs in the emergency operations center and all we were getting was recordings,” said Haley.

A Unitil spokesman said in a statement Monday afternoon the utility had reached out to contractors in anticipation of an “ice event.” Unitil advised its customers to be prepared for “the potential of widespread outages” and to make an inventory of:

  • Flashlights and fresh batteries
  • A battery-operated radio and clock
  • Bottled water, canned foods and a manual can opener
  • A list of important phone numbers and a car charger for cell phones if applicable
  • A first aid kit

For more on the storm, check out our WBZ Weather Team blogs.


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