BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — PEABODY — A strong burst of wind and rain snapped approximately six utility poles, exploded transformers, and brought down wires and poles onto Route 114 near the Danvers line yesterday around 10 a.m.
At one point yesterday morning, power was knocked out to 900 customers in the area, said Randi Holland, the community relations manager at the Peabody Municipal Light Plant. As of 4:30 p.m. yesterday, all but 23 were back on line.
Holland said Peabody received help from Danvers, Middleton and Groveland light department crews.
Downed poles and wires blocked the eastbound lanes of this busy stretch of Route 114. A pole dangled at an angle outside the Subway restaurant at 251 Andover St.
A pole at Mount Pleasant Drive appeared to have taken the brunt of the wind, as it completely snapped off and tumbled onto the roadway. No one was reported injured.
Traffic was detoured on Walter Road, MacArthur Boulevard and Palmer Avenue. Businesses along this stretch of Route 114 include the Outback Steakhouse, a pet grooming salon, the Golden Shears hair salon, a Sleepy’s mattress store and a Verizon Wireless outlet.
Danvers Department of Public Works Director of Operations Bob Lee said Danvers did not have any poles come down, but the response was a complicated one because it involved Peabody poles, a state road and a Danvers detour.
Holland said it was fortunate that no buildings were damaged. Witnesses said it was fortunate that no cars got hit.
“I was surprised,” said Briana Rowe of Salem, who works at the Scrub a Dog N’ Cats Too pet grooming salon near where the poles toppled, “when I looked out, there was not one single car on 114. It was like, I couldn’t believe it. ... That could have easily killed somebody.”
The toppling poles were one of the most visible incidents involving strong winds that brought down trees and limbs and caused scattered power outages across the North Shore. The wind took its toll on the Burger King sign of the Route 128 rest stop just past Brimbal Avenue and Exit 19 in Beverly. Danvers Town Manager Wayne Marquis said that overnight from Wednesday to Thursday, the town had about 300 customers without power. He noted that Danvers Town Hall shook when the burst of weather moved through.
Danvers and Peabody police and firefighters also responded. Police detoured westbound traffic onto Walter Road adjacent to the Century House restaurant and eastbound traffic onto Palmer Avenue.
Witnesses described what it was like when the storm hit and the poles came down.
“The power went out in our dealership, and I went out and looked at the weather, and I saw yellow flashes all over the place, so I knew something bad happened,” said Anthony Angrisano of Lynn, a sales consultant at Ira Audi in Peabody.
“Then I saw that pole leaning,” he said, referring to the pole in front of Subway. One of the store’s managers took a walk, and Angrisano said he counted about a half-dozen poles snapped.
Angrisano also saw the pole at Subway topple in the wind.
“It’s unbelievable, I never would have thought wind would bring down all those telephone poles,” Angrisano said. “Especially that quantity of them.”
Angrisano said he saw intense, yellow-orange flashes over the houses as the poles came down. Angrisano also saw some cars drive through the debris field of snapped poles and high-tension wires.
“They were easily putting their life in someone upstairs’ hands,” Angrisano said.
Barbara Stevens, owner of Scrub a Dog, was looking out her second-floor window when she saw a flash of white light and heard the bang of a transformer exploding.
“I was standing in the window when I saw the first explosion,” said Stevens, of Peabody. “Then, when I looked back out, I saw the second one go out.”
Both Rowe and Stevens said it was lucky that they did not have too many pets in the shop when the power was knocked out.
Arthur Francis, a climatologist at Salem State University and a contributor to The Salem News, was in Peabody when the burst of weather moved through with heavy rain and a roar of wind. It’s the kind of clouds that produce thunderstorms in the summer. Such storms are accompanied by strong downdrafts and dramatic swings in barometric pressure. Francis noted that the barometric pressure had swung from 30.5 inches, indicating fair weather, to 28.4 inches, “the lowest we have been for some time.”
Francis said winds were driven by the fast-approaching storm, which did not produce a lot of rain on the North Shore. The wind speed indicator at Salem State University recorded its top gust of 60 mph at 5 a.m.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.