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Storm preparations helped Amherst area avoid major incidents

Lourdes Milan of Hadley shovels snow off of her car on Saturday, February 9, 2013.

SARAH CROSBY

Lourdes Milan of Hadley shovels snow off of her car on Saturday, February 9, 2013. SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

A lot of snow fell, but preparations in advance of the storm appear to have left most Amherst-area residents unscathed.

And the 20 inches of white stuff that covered the ground proved to be a boon to the town’s Winterfest, which was pushed from Saturday to Sunday due to weather conditions. (See story Page A2.)

Much of the advance storm work centered on ensuring the most vulnerable populations had a place to stay.

The Craig’s Place homeless shelter at the First Baptist Church opened Feb. 8 at 3 p.m. and didn’t close until Monday at 8 a.m.

“Many people said to me how grateful they were to see us open early and stay open all day the next day,” said Craig’s Doors Executive Director Kevin Noonan.

Noonan said he appreciates town officials and the church for authorizing extended hours and allowing it to temporarily exceed the 22-person capacity.

Though authorized to house 34 people each night, only 24, 26 and 30 people came to get beds each of the three nights, Noonan said.

He added that most guests stayed put throughout the weekend, enjoying the company of others, meals and movies.

“People loved the food and the fact they didn’t have to move around on foot,” Noonan said.

He praised staff under director Rebekah Wilder for their dedication during and after the storm.

Not Bread Alone, the soup kitchen based at the First Congregational Church, was open for business as usual, as well, Feb. 9, the day after the storm.

Hannah Elliott, program supervisor for the meal site, said in an email that volunteers arrived for the noontime dinner and had the food ready for the guests.

“The atmosphere was relaxed and cheerful, and all were supportive and encouraging in many ways,” Elliott said.

One casualty of the blizzard conditions occurred at the Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland, where a portion of a greenhouse collapsed onto winter crops growing for sale at the weekly Amherst Winter Farmers Market.

“It seems the combined effect of the snow and wind,” said owner Caroline Pam. “It was a double whammy. It happened so quickly.”

Pam said the crops aren’t damaged yet, but how they fare will depend on weather conditions and whether they are ready to be harvested. The crops include winter salad greens, spinach, radishes, baby turnips, baby bok choi and cilantro.

She had no estimate for how much it will cost to rebuild the portion of the greenhouse, but observed other area farmers also sustained damage.

The driving ban issued by Gov. Deval Patrick kept most people off Amherst roads during the first part of last weekend and minimized calls to quell disruptive behavior.

Amherst Police Detective Jamie Reardon said the bulk of police responses came as the result of people venturing out of their homes.

“There were a lot of weather-related calls,” Reardon said.

But the situation could have been worse, he said.

“It was fortunate and lucky for us people heeded the governor’s warning,” Reardon said.

The most significant accident occurred before the storm picked up in intensity, Feb. 8 at 3:42 p.m., when a vehicle driven by Patrick K. Asselin, 20, of 518 Old Farm Road, went off West Pomeroy Lane and crashed into a tree, mailbox and stone wall before coming to a rest, Reardon said.

Airbags deployed and an Amherst Fire Department ambulance responded to check on both Asselin and passenger Clarke Gale, 19, of 319 Pine St., Reardon said.

Both declined medical attention.

Several other vehicles got stuck in snow overnight Feb. 8 into Feb. 9 and had to be towed and there were a handful of fender-bender crashes.

Police officers and firefighters responded to illegal bonfires on Lincoln Avenue Feb. 8 at 4:39 p.m. and on North Pleasant Street at 5:23 p.m. Both were extinguished before they grew out of control.

Feb. 9 at 12:20 a.m., police advised a downtown bar to close for the night, as people were walking to and from it in the middle of the snow-covered road.

Shortly after the bar closed, several of the patrons went to the intersection of Amity and Main streets, got onto the ground and made snow angels in the middle of the road. They were sent on their way and advised about staying safe.

Feb. 10 at 2:38 p.m., police responded to Montague Road where people walking to the Winterfest event at Cherry Hill Golf Course were pelted with snowballs. Police found the two men responsible and advised them to stop.

Fire department ambulances were able to use the University of Massachusetts Infirmary under a waiver allowed by the state and an agreement with the department’s medical control based at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton.

Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said it made sense to have patients with minor medical problems, primarily caused by alcohol consumption, to go to the UMass site.

“For the storm, it kept us from taking 10-mile trip down the road in treacherous conditions for someone who may have indulged too much,” Nelson said.

Nelson said three students were brought to the UMass Infirmary. He wasn’t surprised that drinking would be an issue in the midst of the blizzard.

“The big sellers before the storm were gas and alcohol,” Nelson said. “You know it’s coming.”

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