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Travel ban lifted in western Mass.

The travel ban has been lifted for the western part of the state, but remains for theNicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

(State House News Service) -- Gov. Charlie Baker lifted the travel ban for western counties of Massachusetts just after noon Tuesday, but declined to speculate on how long the ban might last for Worcester County and the eastern areas of the state.

Baker said the travel ban would remain in effect on Interstate 90 in Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties while other roads there would be open, and he encouraged people to "use best judgment" when deciding whether to venture out.

As snow continued to swirl in the eastern part of the state, Baker described "two storms," with the west experiencing "relatively moderate" weather, while people in the east can look forward to another 5 to 10 inches. He said snowfall is expected to reach estimates of more than two feet.

Ocean waters breached a seawall in Marshfield and the sea "took out a house" that was unoccupied, Baker told reporters during a televised briefing. He noted there will be another high tide around 4 p.m.

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Nantucket, which was completely without power and with downed cell phone service after slat water spray contributed to the freezing of substation equipment, is beginning to recover, officials said.

"We are dealing with sort of a power outage on Nantucket that we've been scrambling to fix," Baker said.

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt Schwartz said utilities on the island fired up generators and much of the island now has power while "the permanent service has yet to be restored." He said Nantucket Hospital is "running on generator power and is fully functional."

According to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, "hurricane force gusts" were reported on Nantucket.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton said the two main lines that transmit electricity out of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth "had failures" unrelated to the facility's power generation. He said crews are starting to clear the snow out of the "switch yard" where authorities believe the problem is located.

Baker spoke to reporters at MEMA headquarters in Framingham. Before leaving office, former Gov. Deval Patrick installed a "command center" on the fourth floor of the State House, part of the $11.3 million renovation of the Executive Suite that was intended to allow the governor to communicate remotely and securely with emergency personnel. Baker said the office is not fully functional and he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito preferred to be in the Framingham bunker.

"Karyn and I both wanted to be here under one roof with all of the other players in state government," Baker said. He said, "The situation room in the governor's office is not fully functional to begin with."

State Police Superintendent Col. Timothy Alben said the public has largely complied with the ban on travel, and said police have issued citations or summons, but did not arrest anyone for violating the order.

"We had for example a tractor trailer unit on Route 91, I think in West Springfield, that jackknifed out there, that was clearly there in violation of the ban," Alben said. Baker said the ban on travel for the general public has allowed medical workers to "get in and out" of hospitals.

Before Baker's press conference, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy announced the travel ban in his state would be lifted at 2 p.m. Malloy said, "The system has worked."

Baker declined to speculate on when travel might resume throughout Massachusetts, though he said he "better be sleeping at home tonight" and predicted a "slow start" Wednesday morning, noting, "There are still a lot of driveways that haven't been shoveled."

"I would love to speculate on that but I'd prefer not to," Baker said when asked when the ban might be lifted.

Asked about the $765 million budget hole that had occupied the attention of his administration before the blizzard hit, Baker said there is $40 million in the snow and ice budget and that spending account had already been "identified" as a "potential issue."

Stephanie Pollack, the incoming transportation secretary, said the Massachusetts Department of Transportation spent nearly $20 million on the major snowstorm in 2013.

Some commentators have noted the stylistic difference between Baker, who wore a suit to a snowstorm press briefing on Monday, and his predecessor Patrick, who would wear a MEMA fleece vest when discussing ongoing storms in the bunker. On Tuesday, Baker wore more casual attire.

"Today is a snow day. I am dressed for a snow day," Baker said. He said he would hold another briefing at 5 p.m.

 
 
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