NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — As thousands of residents remain without gas service on Aquidneck Island, National Grid is working around the clock to resolve the problem for affected customers.
National Grid set up a Customer Information Center at Gurney’s Newport Resort on Goat Island. There, customers can obtain the most up-to-date information on the restoration efforts and resources being offered by National Grid, the State of Rhode Island and the Red Cross.
They’ve also set up a website which provides updates and information about potential hotels, alternative heating options and information about the claims process.
The Restoration Process
National Grid said the interruption in service is due to a transmission supply issue with its natural gas supplier, Algonquin Gas Transmission Co.
Spokeswoman for Algonquin Marylee Hanley said a temporary reduction in available natural gas in the supply led to the disruption in service.
“We are collaborating with the local gas company and working diligently to assist in any way we can with gas service restoration efforts,” Hanley said in a statement. “Safety and operational reliability remain our top priority. Natural gas pipeline capacity in New England remains an ongoing concern, particularly during severe cold conditions. Algonquin remains committed to engaging policymakers and stakeholders to address this concern.”
As a precaution, National Grid said it shut off service Monday to roughly 6,400 customers in Newport and 340 customers in Middletown because of low pressure concerns.
In all, National Grid estimates more than 10,000 people are affected by the outage. They said it will take at least three days to completely shut down the system, then another four days to bring it back online.
Tim Horan, President of National Grid Rhode Island, said before depressurizing the line workers have to go house to house to shut down each gas meter. Then, once gas service is restored, they will need to go house to house again to turn meters back on and re-light pilot lights.
Newport officials said while the city will continue to shut down gas service, Middletown customers should expect to see re-lighting commence Tuesday evening around 6 p.m.
If no one is home to let gas crews in, Horan said workers will get help from a locksmith and police officers to enter. There are 19 zones affected and Horan said the section of Middletown that is affected will likely be the first back online.
According to National Grid, customers should not turn off their own gas or furnace and should wait for a technician instead. To prevent freezing pipes, customers should keep their faucets running at a trickle.
How to Get Help
The timing of the outage came on one of the coldest nights of the year so far, with temperatures dipping into the single digits overnight and wind chills of -10 to -20.
Gov. Gina Raimondo urged all customers affected to seek warm shelter and not to tough it out.
“This will be a multi-day event, possibly a week or longer,” Raimondo said. “To set expectations, this will be many days, a week or more.”
Raimondo said it is unsafe for residents to stay in their homes if they have no gas due to the dangerously cold weather conditions.
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 hotel room up front.
The vouchers are available at the Gurney’s Information Center, at the warming center at Gaudet School, and also by calling for 211. Raimondo urged anyone who needs a ride to a warming center or hotel to call 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.
Starting Jan. 23, Chartwells will be 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. The Edward King House and Middletown Senior Center remain open as well and Meals on Wheels deliveries will continue through the week.
Potter League is also helping people house their pets during the outage, since the warming centers and many hotels do not accomodate pets.
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.
Anyone who smells natural gas in their home should call 911 and contact National Grid’s emergency line at 1-800-640-1595.
Due to the lack of heat, Newport Schools will be closed for the rest of the week.
Newport Mayor Jamie Bova said they will not reopen as long as the buildings are without heat.
Beginning Jan. 23, the school district said Pell Elementary School staff will be distributing their backpack food program to all regular participants at the Pell School lobby between 1-2 p.m. Any other families in need of assistance can visit the school at 2:30 p.m. where they will distribute food on a first come, first serve basis.
The Rhode Island Department of Education said they’ve been in constant contact with the districts’ superintendents to offer support during the outage. They said the district will have the option to submit a request to waive a portion of the 180-day requirement.
“We have not yet received or considered a waiver request, since [local education agencys] typically wait until they know how long a situation will last before submitting a waiver request and we consider each waiver request on a case-by-case basis once received,” RIDE said in a statement.
It’s unclear at this time if Newport will submit a waiver request that will prevent students from making up the school days lost during the outage.
“We have students that are not going to be in school for a week or more, it’s a large impact and day by day we are assessing what that impact is and how we will recover from it,” Bova said.
In the meantime, the city said all schools will be posting activities and updates for students to continue their studies despite the gas outage.
City officials are asking parents to ensure students continue to work on school projects, study for exams and complete their reading assignments. They will continue to update the community on the Newport Public Schools district website.
Some Residents Refuse to Leave
A number of Newport residents are staying in their homes despite guidance to do otherwise, telling Eyewitness News they are concerned about not being home in case the pipes burst or if National Grid technicians arrive.
“We have no heat, but we do have fireplaces and we’ve been using them just to pull that horrible chill out of the air,” said Elizabeth Brooks of Newport. “Luckily we have an electric blanket.”
“I have a warm nightgown and alpaca socks for my feet,” said Jane Hence, who is also using space heaters at her Newport home. She also has a backup plan. “I have wonderful neighbors whom have oil heat, so they have offered that I could be there.”
There’s been a run on electric space heaters at local stores, with reports of heaters running out at several big box stores. Ocean State Job Lot in Middletown got a delivery of five pallets of heaters Tuesday afternoon, and they sold out almost instantly.
“I’m trying to find a space heater for my apartment because everyone’s sold out,” said Michael Morris, who said Job Lot was his second unsuccessful stop.
“The company’s going out of their way to get them from other stores down to our store where it’s in most need for the customers,” said store manager Lee Buoy, who is expecting further deliveries.
National Grid is also working to get space heaters for customers who don’t want to leave their homes.
A van delivered dozens of heaters to the National Grid customer service center inside Gurney’s on Tuesday night and residents quickly started snagging them to bring home.
The Newport Fire Department is urging anyone who is using a space heater to follow all of the directions that come with it and to not leave it unattended.