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Baker mid-storm assessment: 'So far, so good'

A plow truck drives through the snow on I-93 in Massachusetts Tuesday.NIcolaus Czarnecki/Metro

(State House News Service) -- After forecasts of an historic blizzard, dawn broke across Massachusetts on Tuesday after what Gov. Charlie Baker called a "relatively incident-free night."

"I mean, so far so good," Baker said at 7:20 a.m., wrapping up a 15-minute storm update from the state's emergency management bunker in Framingham.

"We haven't had any catastrophic issues, life safety issues overnight," said Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt Schwartz.

Baker on Monday declared a state of emergency and announced that public transportation would be shut down on Tuesday, urging residents statewide to hunker down and ride out the storm indoors.

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Early Tuesday, Baker said people should spend the morning digging out and clearing sidewalks and fire hydrants and vents.

Baker said Tuesday that there were less than 200 people in emergency shelters statewide, "not a lot of road closures," and significantly fewer power outages than expected due to colder temperatures that resulted in lighter, fluffier snow.

"Nantucket by the way has been hit particularly hard with respect to power outages," Baker said.

After being sidelined briefly by illness earlier this month, the snowstorm this week represented another speed bump for Baker and his efforts to address a midyear budget deficit. The governor took office on Jan. 8 and his budget chief says the state has been "bleeding" money due to a budget gap that he has pinpointed at $765 million.

After meeting with legislative leaders at the State House Monday afternoon, Baker told the News Service Monday that a budget fix plan may be "doable by Friday."

A statewide travel ban he imposed at midnight had mostly been working as anticipated and was being discussed Tuesday morning, with an update expected at noon, Baker said.

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth shut down after the two main lines that transmit power from that facility went down, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton announced.

Station officials were transitioning to operations with one line when the second line went down and Beaton said the plant shut down, as required, due to "safety and security reasons."

Two backup generators, with enough fuel to continue for a week, are supplying power to the facility to make sure safety precautions in the plant continue.

Beaton said there is "no public safety hazard at this time." He said it was "hard to say" when the transmission lines would be restored, but officials planned to restore the lines "as quickly as possible."

"This is more of an issue of no place to put all the energy that was being generated - no safety issue whatsoever around this issue to the general public," Beaton said. "We want to make that point very clear to folks."

Pilgrim spokeswoman Lauren Burm released a statement from the station.

"In response to degrading offsite electrical grid conditions during winter storm Juno, Pilgrim initiated a plant downpower to 20% in accordance with plant procedures," the statement said.

The statement continued: "During the downpower, the distribution lines that Pilgrim uses to send electricity to the grid became inoperable due to an offsite issue, and the plant subsequently shut down safely as designed. The plant is currently being powered by the onsite emergency diesel generators and offsite power remains available from the 23KV power supply, if needed. All safety systems worked as designed. Plant conditions are stable and there is no threat to the safety of plant workers or the public."

Snowfall, cold temperatures and high winds will continue through Tuesday and into the evening, but Baker predicted many areas would wind up with between 18 and 20 inches rather than totals approaching three feet that some had been predicted. Western Massachusetts could end up with between six and 12 inches, Baker said.

Just after 7 a.m., Baker said most parts of Massachusetts had between six and 12 inches of snow. The heaviest snow overnight occurred in Worcester and Middlesex counties and the southern portions of Bristol County, he said.

Coastal flooding, which was predicted with the 4 a.m. high tide, occurred on Cape Cod and South Shore communities. Baker said public officials are now focused on the 4 p.m. high tide on Tuesday.

There have been limited, assisted evacuations in Marshfield, Scituate and Hull of people who "didn't heed the warnings and leave," said Schwartz, the MEMA director.

"I don't want to call these emergency rescues. These were not life-and-death situations," said Schwartz. "Water was coming up and we assisted some people out in those three communities."

Schwartz emphasized that "you can't drive a car through flood waters."

Baker also said that State Police and state transportation officials have reported that some people are getting out their vehicles on interstate highways to clear their windshields.

"Not a good idea," he said. "I think we'd prefer people if you need to clean off your windshield to get off the road before you do that."

Baker said those who have been traveling are allowed to under the travel ban.

 
 
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