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New England Digs Out of Hurricane Aftermath

August 21, 1991

BOSTON (AP) _ Provincetown teacher Francis Mitchell Jr. couldn’t get up the nerve to open his refrigerator a day after Hurricane Bob knocked out power.

″I’m sure most of the stuff in the fridge is gone,″ said Mitchell, one of hundreds of thousands of New Englanders still without electricity late Tuesday.

Throughout the region, work crews removed gnarled trees from roads - in Warwick, R.I., officials broke out the snowplows - and insurance company representatives met with owners of damaged homes.

At least 16 deaths were blamed on the storm, and 2.1 million businesses and homes lost power. With utility officials predicting it could be days before power is restored in some areas, people lined up to buy ice to keep food fresh.

″We cleared the floor bone dry,″ said Joe Swift, owner of the East Bay Ice Co. in East Providence, R.I., which makes 135 tons of ice a day. ″Just before 2 p.m. there had to be 100 to 150 people out there.″

Rhode Island Gov. Bruce G. Sundlun said after touring the state that damage could top $20 million, more than that from Hurricane Gloria in 1985. He is already seeking federal aid, and other states are expected to follow. Massachusetts Gov. William Weld estimated damage in his state at $1 billion.

Connecticut Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. made the first step in securing federal disaster assistance, asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assess damage.

Crews came from utilities as far away as Virginia and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec have come to the Northeast to work 16-hour shifts with local crews clearing debris and restoring power.

But their task did not always go smoothly. In some cases, damage to transformers became known only when crews tried to turn power on, or branches weakened by the hurricane and subsequent rains would fall and pull wires back down.

″We get a feeder in but then lose one because a branch will fall,″ said David Correira, a spokesman for Blackstone Valley Electric Co. in Rhode Island. Connecticut apple growers reported losing as much as 50 percent of their crops, and vegetable farmers were also hard hit, said Connecticut Agriculture Commissioner John Herndon.

Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay was closed after storm sewers dumped as much as 50 million gallons of untreated sewage into the water. Environmental officials said it would reopen for shellfishing on Tuesday.

The storm struck at the height of the summer vacation season, and officials worried about the loss of tourist dollars.

″People want to leave today,″ said Ted Morgan, an Edgartown, Mass., selectman on Martha’s Vineyard.

Still, officials said Bob appeared to have caused less damage than the last hurricane to hit the Northeast, Gloria in 1985.

″I think our first impression was of great thanks there wasn’t far worse damage,″ said Ed Thomas, an official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Rhode Island.

Especially hard hit were the eastern tip of New York’s Long Island, Rhode Island, eastern Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

After reaching maximum sustained winds of 115 mph Monday, the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm Tuesday when it crossed into Canada. By midday its remnants had moved out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Update hourly