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Gas service restored for some; will be days more for others

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NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — Thousands of homes and businesses on Aquidneck Island remain without natural gas as National Grid continues working to restore service.

A dramatic drop in pressure on Monday forced the utility company to suspend service to the lower portion of the island. National Grid estimated more than 10,000 people were affected by the outage at its peak.

According to Terry Sobolewski, National Grid’s senior vice president and chief customer officer, 238 of the 340 affected in Middletown have had their gas restored while in Newport, utility crews are still working to shut down each and every gas meter. He said this must be done in order to reintroduce gas into the system.

Sobolewski said in Newport, approximately 6,400 homes and businesses have been affected by the outage. So far, he said 6,000 of those customers have had their gas meters turned off.

Technicians assisted by Newport police are still going door-to-door to shut off the remaining meters but in some cases, a locksmith must be used to gain access to unattended homes and businesses.

Sobolewski said it’s that inability to get into some homes and businesses that’s driving the pace of their efforts.

“I know there have been a number of questions raised with regard to National Grid’s authority to enter a home, but here’s what I’ll say: because it’s so important for our communities to restore service and because we can’t begin relighting until we’ve confirmed every service is off, we believe it is essential to get into homes and businesses and make sure that’s been completed,” he explained. “We do so with great care. We do so accompanied by law enforcement.”

Once gas service is restored, crews will again need to go door-to-door to turn the meters back on and re-light pilot lights. This must be done by a trained technician, so residents are urged to not try to turn their gas on or off themselves.

If you smell natural gas in your home – immediately call 911 and contact National Grid’s emergency line at 1-800-640-1595.

On Tuesday, officials estimated it will take at least three days to completely shut down the system, then another four days to bring it back online. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrived in Newport Wednesday and has set up an operations center at Fort Adams.

Newport Mayor Jamie Bova stressed that if residents are home and without heat, they should call 211 and the city will find them a warm place to stay during the outage.

National Grid set up a Customer Information Center at Gurney’s Newport Resort on Goat Island. There, residents can obtain the most up-to-date information on the restoration efforts and the resources being offered by National Grid, the state of Rhode Island and the American Red Cross.

They’ve also set up a website which provides updates and information about hotels, alternative heating options and the claims process.

Aquidneck Island Gas Emergency: Vital resources »

Newport Public Schools have closed for the remainder of the week. Parents are asked to make sure students continue to work on school projects, study for exams and complete their reading assignments in the meantime.

The Murray Judicial Complex in Newport will also remain closed on Thursday as a result of the gas outage.

While many affected customers are taking advantage of the resources provided by city and state officials, there are still some residents who are trying to tough it out at home.

Raimondo urged everyone that this is extremely unsafe and they shouldn’t rely on space heaters for warmth.

Portable space heaters were distributed to residents Tuesday at Gurney’s, which were gone within minutes. While officials are urging residents to head to warming centers or hotels instead, they are also asking those who do utilize a space heater to follow all of the instructions that came with it and to never leave them unattended.

MORE: Safety tips for utilizing space heaters »

How to Get Help

For those who can’t stay with a friend or family member, National Grid said they will reimburse residents who are staying at a hotel. National Grid said customers need to keep receipts for any expenses related to the outage.

Raimondo said National Grid has hotel vouchers available for those who can’t afford to pay for a room up front. The vouchers are available at the Gurney’s Information Center, at the warming center at Gaudet School and also by calling 211.

Warming Center Locations include:

  • Gaudet Middle School – 230 Turner Road, Middletown
  • URI Memorial Student Union – 50 Lower College Road, Kingston
  • Donovan Manor – 19 Chapel Street, Newport

The city of Newport is offering charter buses to shuttle people who need transportation during the outage. Anyone who needs transportation can also contact the Newport Fire Department at (401) 845-5934.

Raimondo also said RIPTA will be waiving fares for passengers on Aquidneck Island. She said they are also altering routes to ensure transportation to the Florence Gray Community Center, Gaudet and Gurney’s.

Chartwells is serving meals to affected residents at the Florence Gray Center from 7:30-9 a.m. for breakfast and 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for lunch. Gurney’s is also serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to those affected by the outage.

The Edward King House and Middletown Senior Center remain open and Meals on Wheels deliveries will continue through the week.

The Planet Fitness in Middletown is opening its doors to those impacted by the outage. Impacted residents are able to utilize the heat, showers and locker rooms free of charge without a membership. Planet Fitness said non-members must show an ID for proof of residency and sign into the guest register.

Potter League is also helping people house their pets during the outage since the warming centers and many hotels do not accommodate pets.

Raimondo said she took executive action making it easier for affected residents to apply for unemployment. She said those who have missed work due to the outage can apply for unemployment insurance immediately.

The Department of Labor and Training (DLT) said they will also waive penalties to employers to ensure no local business impacted sees their unemployment insurance cost increase.

While Newport Hospital has not been directly impacted by the outage, one of its affiliated outpatient medical centers was forced to close Tuesday afternoon.

Hospital officials said the Lifespan Physician Group primary care practice on Memorial Boulevard has been temporarily shut down due to lack of heat and the need to shut off water service to protect the pipes from freezing.

During the closure, hospital officials said all healthcare providers will see patients at the hospital’s three other affiliated Lifespan locations in Newport County:

  • Lifespan Physician Group Portsmouth, at 77 Turnpike Avenue, Portsmouth
  • Lifespan Physician Group Tiverton, at 711 Main Road, Tiverton
  • Jamestown Family Practice, at 20 Southwest Avenue, Jamestown

Patients with upcoming appointments are being notified where their provider will be during the closure. Anyone who has questions can contact the main number at (401) 606-4510.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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