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Morning after, New Canaanites take Sandy in stride

Published 9:22 am, Thursday, November 1, 2012

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  • In a scene played out throughout lower Fairfield County, the line is long outside the Dunkin Donuts on Elm Street on Tuesday morning after Hurricane Sandy swept through town. Photo: Tyler Woods
    In a scene played out throughout lower Fairfield County, the line is long outside the Dunkin Donuts on Elm Street on Tuesday morning after Hurricane Sandy swept through town. Photo: Tyler Woods

 

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Most New Canaan residents woke up Tuesday morning without power.

Michael Handler, emergency management director, announced in his 8 a.m. call that Hurricane Sandy was "safely out of the area."

As the morning wore on, more and more people ventured outdoors. Sticks and leaves blanketed the ground. Trees were uprooted all over town, the bottoms of their roots greeting passersby and motorists on the roads.

More than 130 streets were blocked by downed trees and power lines.

Firefighters, police officers, emergency medical services personnel, workers from Connecticut Light & Power, Community Emergency Response Team and volunteers who just showed up at the Emergency Operations Center worked through the night to help prevent a single storm-related injury from occuring in New Canaan.

James Socci and Mario Lozadi sat at the folding tables in Veggie Barn Market at around 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, drinking coffee and talking about the storm. Both men had lost power and were happy to be out of the house.

On Elm Street, Dunkin Donuts was the place to be. At 9 a.m., there was a line of weary customers out the door.

Catherine Skibitcky, of Old Stamford Road, had a window smashed in her car and saw an other-worldly scene when a tree fell onto electrical wires Monday night.

"When the tree fell, a tree branch flew off and smashed into my car. The tree fell and took out the power lines. When the power went out, it blew up a transformer. Blue light, blinding, ran across the wire. My brother was blinded for a minute after looking at it. It lasted for probably about 15 seconds, but it felt like an eternity."

She said the family was looking out the window because they noticed smoke and sparks coming off the power line. That's when the electric blue light occurred. She also said that when following the light, there was a deafening pop. The tree rested on sagging power lines.

Outside the firehouse on Main Street, two exhausted-looking firefighters sat on the low retaining wall next to the station and drank coffee out of Styrofoam cups. They had been working since 4:30 p.m. the previous afternoon.

Lauren Curretani, a CERT leader and one of its directors, said during the storm, CERT volunteers answered the phones for the EOC and updated reports of where trees and wires had fallen. Monday night, as the storm intensified and trees started falling en masse it became increasingly difficult to respond to calls, she said. "Last night we were paralyzed."

Police Chief Ed Nadriczny said the primary role of his force starting on Tuesday was to locate downed trees and wires and mark them with caution tape and barricades. He said some of his officers worked up to 16-hour shifts during the storm, one working 19 hours.

"Last night between 6:15 and 8 p.m. was the worst of the storm. We had people trapped in cars between trees and trees on houses. That was the worst and it slowly started to subside," he said.

For Mark Goldschmidt, who lives in the Silvermine part of town, his house lost power around 4 p.m. on Monday, but he was able to run it on a generator. A tree fell close to his house, blocking his driveway. He had to drive over his lawn to get to the police station to report his situation. He thought Sandy was worse than Hurricane Irene, which occurred the year before. He didn't lose phone and Internet service then.

"There is no (cell) phone service where I live, so I couldn't call in to report problems. That's one of the problems with cell service in that area. It's normally terrible, now it's non-existent," he said.

Kevin McIntosh, a CERT volunteer who was at the EOC office at the police station Tuesday morning, said he knew of significant property damage in New Canaan. "I spoke to half a dozen people with trees on houses," he said.

Kay Grogan, Jamie Corkran and Rose Rothbart were out on Old Stamford Road Tuesday morning, clearing branches and checking on their elderly neighbor. Old Stamford Road was completely blocked by a massive uprooted tree that lay across the road.

"We were all pretty lucky, but we can't get out," Rothbart said.

At the football field at Waveny Park, the goal posts in both endzones had tipped over, like trees, onto the field. There was also a soccer goal, sideways, on about the 40-yard line.

Dave Jonker, New Canaan's former emergency management director, had set up a shelter at the Lapham Center in Waveny Park. The shelter, outfitted with cots and food, had space for up to 40 people. Tuesday morning, it was unused, but he said the shelter housed seven people the night before. He said the town decided to open the shelter after residents indicated on the OEC's Facebook page that they wanted a place to come to, but that none of them had come.

"We're happy," he said. "That means people are OK."

By noon, downtown New Canaan was buzzing with activity. Several restaurants had opened up. Burger bar Station Eats on Park Street was packed.

The sun attempted to fight through overcast clouds. People walked their dogs and rode bicycles.

Although more than 130 roads were closed, downed wires still presented a safety concern, and some 70 percent of houses were without power, New Canaan seemed to return to some semblance of normalcy.

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews