By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- With strong winds, blowing snow and bitter cold consuming Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick closed state government for Friday, encouraged private employers to allow workers to stay home, and urged people who come across a homeless person or someone stranded outdoors to call 911 immediately.
The nor'easter began dumping snow on the state early Thursday morning and Patrick briefed the public in a televised news conference from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency bunker Thursday evening.
With hazards posed by frostbite, hypothermia, coastal flooding and major snow accumulation, Patrick said, "The point is to keep people off of the roads and away from the cold, which is extreme."
Patrick said snow accumulation forecasts have been revised upwards especially for areas east of Rte. 495, with the possibility of blizzard conditions in coastal areas and up to 24 inches of snow in parts of Essex County.
"Temperatures are expected to plummet," Patrick said, reporting that the wind chill could make outdoors temperatures feel as low as 30 degrees below zero.
The governor said he would waive limitations on when fuel oil can be delivered and said there are emergency shelters where people can get warm.
Non-emergency information about the storm can be obtained by calling 211.
Patrick said he had not called a state of emergency, though he said the public is responding to requests to keep off the roads.
"I think in effect we have one right now. We are proceeding in that way," Patrick said when asked about whether he would call a state of emergency.
Patrick said such declarations are useful for cutting through "regulatory red tape," and later praised his team of winter storm veterans. He said, "I'm very proud of this team and we've had a lot of practice."
With potential coastal flooding on its way with high tides at midnight and noon Friday, Duxbury and Scituate have issued voluntary evacuation
recommendations to certain areas, and MEMA Director Kurt Schwartz said he expects other coastal communities to do the same.
Patrick said the National Guard and Environmental Police are "staged and ready to help," and he expects there will be 3,000 pieces of equipment clearing roads by morning.
Patrick said whether to close school Friday is a local decision, and said he expects most districts, at least in the eastern part of the state, will not open Friday.
Transportation Secretary Richard Davey advised people traveling Friday to use public transit and to expect delays.
"The temperature is what worries us the most on the MBTA," said Davey, who said the T had experienced "modest delays" Thursday. He said, "Given the cold, there will be impacts for sure."
Fire Marshall Stephen Coan said the cold will make firefighting, police work and other emergency services more difficult, and said storms are the peak time for incidents with poisonous carbon monoxide, advising people who are without heat not to use their stoves for warmth or bring charcoal grills indoors.
Patrick advised people to be sure to clear exhaust pipes before running a car, bundle up and pay particular attention to the elderly, very young and shut-in neighbors.
"There have been no major power outages so far but we have been in close contact with the utilities," Patrick said, reminding people to keep electrical generators well ventilated to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
"Please listen to directions from local public officials," Patrick said.