Wind gusts of up to 60 mph from Hurricane Sandy toppled trees and power lines across the Berkshires on Monday, causing widespread power outages, damaging homes and vehicles and blocking major roadways while crews scrambled to clean up the debris.
The storm also forced several area school districts, including North Adams and Pittsfield, to cancel classes today for the second straight day.
The high winds and occasionally heavy rains were expected to continue through this morning, with some effects lingering through Thursday, according to area forecasters.
While Monday began quietly, the wind gathered momentum in the afternoon -- a gust of 60 mph was reported in Otis -- and trees and limbs began to sway and snap.
"Since 2 p.m., our guys have been chasing downed wires and downed trees throughout the city," said Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski.
The Esposito family narrowly escaped disaster Monday evening as an old ash tree smashed into the second floor of their Westwood Road home in Pittsfield moments after the mother plucked their toddler from her crib.
About the same time, around 5:40 p.m., a large tree crashed across South Street between Mazzeo's Ristorante and Berkshire Life, closing that section of the main thoroughfare for more than 90 minutes, city police said.
A section of Route 23 west of Main Street in Great Barrington was closed around 4;30 p.m. for about an hour due to downed power lines. The outage briefly affected Fairview Hospital until its backup generator kicked in, according to police.
In Lenox, a guest escaped injury after a tree fell on the roof of Founder Cottage, one of several guest houses at Cranwell Resort. Local fire officials say minor damage was done to the building.
From Savoy to Otis, the high winds and down trees caused numerous power outages, the majority being hilltown customers of Western Massachusetts Electric Company. As of 8 p.m., WMECO's website reported 4,700 Berkshire homes and businesses in the dark. Utility officials were unavailable for comment as to when power would be completely restored.
Meanwhile National Grid reported far fewer customers without power at 8 p.m. in its Berkshire Service area. The more than 800 affected were primarily in Sheffield and North Adams.
Utility officials said they were prepared to handle a surge in power interruptions, should they occur because of the storm.
"We will do what we can through the night to maintain power, but crews can't work [up high] when winds are gusting hard," said National Grid spokeswoman, Debbie Drew.
Sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph, with gusts to 55 mph, were expected to continue overnight and begin to diminish by this afternoon, according to the National Weather Service in Albany. As for rainfall, another 1 to 2 inches could fall from showers that will taper off by Thursday night.
Rainfall amounts ranged from one-quarter inch in Pittsfield to 0.55 inches in Savoy by nightfall on Monday.
As predicted, the main impact of the storm was from the wind, with the heaviest rain remaining well to the south and west of the region.
The winds were so intense Monday afternoon, they created foot-high white caps atop Pontoosuc Lake in Pittsfield.
Worst hurricanes ...
Here's a snapshot of some of the worst hurricanes to hit New England:
* Aug. 25,1635: The Great Colonial Hurricane was the first historical record of an intense hurricane in the region. Some refer to it as America's first recorded natural disaster. The storm's eye is believed to have passed between Boston and Plymouth causing at least 46 casualties.
* Sept. 23, 1815: The Great September Gale was the first major hurricane to impact New England in 180 years. After crossing Long Island, N.Y., the storm came ashore at Saybrook, Conn., funneling an 11-foot storm surge up Narragansett Bay. There, it destroyed 500 houses, 35 ships and flooded Providence, R.I.
* Sept. 21, 1938: The Great Hurricane. This Category 5 was the first major hurricane to strike New England since 1869. The Blue Hill Observatory, outside of Boston, measured sustained winds of 121 mph, with gusts of 183 mph. Providence, R.I., reported sustained winds of 100 mph, gusting to 125 mph. Rainfall of 10 to 17 inches caused severe flooding in Western Massachusetts. In all, 600 deaths were attributed to the storm.
* Sept. 14-15, 1944: The Great Atlantic Hurricane produced 140-mph winds and caused over $100 million in damage, as well as 390 deaths, mostly at sea.
* Aug. 21, 1954: Hurricane Carol, a compact, but powerful, borderline Category 3 battered New England, killing 68. With 100 mph winds, gusting up to 135 mph, Carol caused over $460 million in damage, destroying 4,000 homes, 3,500 cars, and over 3,000 boats. This was arguably the most destructive storm to hit Southern New England since 1938.
* Aug. 17-19, 1955: Hurricane Diane dropped up to 20 inches of rain, setting flood records throughout the region. Diane was recognized as the wettest tropical cyclone to impact New England and was blamed for nearly 200 deaths.
* Sept. 12, 1960: Hurricane Donna recorded 160 mph winds with gusts up to 200 mph. Donna hit New England in Southeast Connecticut with sustained winds of 100 mph, gusting to 125-130 mph, cutting diagonally through the region to Maine. The storm killed 364, and caused more than $500 million in damage.
* Sept. 27, 1985: Hurricane Gloria hugged the coastline; as it made its way north, Gloria crossed Long Island, making landfall at Milford, Conn. The storm left more than 2 million people without power.
* Aug. 19, 1991: Hurricane Bob made landfall in New England near New Bedford with 115 mph winds. The damage total for Southern New England was set at $1 billion, with $2.5 billion overall damage.
* Sept. 16-17, 1999: Hurricane Floyd's worst impact was flooding, with mudslides in the Berkshires and road closures.
* Aug. 28, 2011: Tropical Storm Irene slammed into the Northeast leaving badly damaged homes and roads in its wake. Federal aid in Berkshire County topped $30 million.
Source: Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security; New England Newspapers archives.