Storm ravages New Canaan
Published 1:04 am, Thursday, March 18, 2010
On Monday, Gov. M. Jodi Rell declared a state of emergency in Fairfield County in response to severe storm damage that left many of New Canaan's streets blocked, schools closed and homes in the dark.
A powerful mix of wind and rain pounded the county on Saturday and Sunday, leaving more than half the town without power, and many without telephone service, for days, according to Connecticut Light & Power estimates.
The storm trapped residents inside their homes, and in other cases prompted them to flee to friends' homes, hotels and town shelters as wires and trees fell into roadways and onto homes, basements flooded and fences toppled.
New Canaan Public Schools closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday due to power outages and road closures and more than 40 roads were still closed due to storm damage as of Tuesday evening, according to First Selectman Jeb Walker.
The town opened an Emergency Operations Center at the New Canaan Police Department at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Staffed by a cooperation of town official and first responder volunteers including First Selectman Jeb Walker, Selectman Rob Mallozzi, Town Emergency Commander David Yonker and Police Commission Chairman Jim Cole, the EOC coordinated the town's storm response, kept abreast of new developments and answered storm-related questions from residents via phone.
The EOC has operated daily from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. since Sunday.
"This will probably be our longest deployment of the EOC," Mallozzi said.
More than 140 electrical lines in town were damaged or downed in the weekend storm. By Tuesday, CL&P had deployed 31 overhead line crews and 14 tree crews comprised of workers from many states and Canada to work on the devastation in New Canaan, according to Bruce Bernier, CL&P Director of Operations.
"Any crew working on our property, we've mandated that they work ... 16 hours and then rest eight hours and then they come back to work. ... We keep 25 percent of our crews working throughout the evening."
Bernier said it took much coordination to bring crews in and get them settled in hotels.
Bernier also called the storm "unique" and incomparable in the severity of damage it caused to a small county.
"I've been doing this for 24 years and I frankly have not seen such concentrated devastation as I am seeing right now in Fairfield County," Bernier said.
According to Selectman Rob Mallozzi, limited progress was made toward reopening roads before Tuesday, largely due to a communication problem with CL&P.
"We have assets here in town that we could be using but we could not use prior to [Tuesday] because of issues with downed wires," Mallozzi said, adding, "The bad news is the communication from CL&P to people like us is completely disjointed."
First Selectman Jeb Walker agreed, and said that by Tuesday communication between the power company and town officials had greatly improved.
"A lot of the local stuff is coming together very well," he said. "The issue continues to be CL&P. They have dozens of crews, but their internal system to dispatch their crews to get them to the right place seem to be broken. ... There are [CL&P] trucks sitting all over town with people sitting there sucking their thumbs waiting to be told where to go. So it's not a manpower issue, it's a process issue."
He added, "The least cooperative of all has been Cable Vision. CP&P has been bad, Cablevision has been worse."
Following the storm, many motorists exposed themselves and others to potential electrocution by removing warning barriers serving to block roadways cluttered with felled trees and live wires, according to the New Canaan Police Department.
Between Saturday and Tuesday, the department responded to at least two storm-related fires and five calls for carbon monoxide-related problems.
One fire broke underneath the fireplace in a residence on Jennifer Lane and caused significant damage, according to Chief Edward Karl. Pound Ridge firefighters were dispatched to the scene to assist in fighting the fire, he said. Karl described another home chimney fire as minor.
The department also responded to many calls regarding alarm system activations, Karl said. When the batteries that run home alarm systems die, they sometimes surge and activate, he said.
During the aftermath of the storm, the fire department provided residents with water, inviting them to fetch a personal supply with emptied milk cartons and other containers from sink faucets throughout the building.
The rectory at St. Aloysius opened as a 24-hour shelter at midday on Monday. About six people utilized the shelter during its first day and two spent the night, according to Health and Human Services Director Carol McDonald.
On Tuesday, the town rented a generator at the price of $10,000 per week to deliver power to the YMCA New Canaan branch on Wednesday morning.
"What that will do at the Y is give us a facility that's dependable for showers and for people to congregate and to vent their frustrations," Walker said.
He added, "Public Works called me yesterday and with my approval got us a palate of water. Rob [Mallozzi] is working with a water distributor to get water to the fire department. The generator and the sign at Morse Court are other unexpected costs, but that's why we have a contingency fund. It was adequate dollars in it right now to handle everything that we can see coming. The one issue that we can't predict it the impact of overtime ... so there will be budget implications of that."
The town utilized high school volunteers and mail carriers hand-deliver 4,300 pamphlets of pertinent information to the front doors of homes across town in an effort to make more residents aware of the emergency help and aid resources available to them in the town center.
"You almost have to think backwards to when we didn't have the Internet to come up with the best modes of communication with residents in times like this," Mallozzi said.
The storm caused a traffic increase of more than 150 percent on Sunday and Monday, she said.
The library also extended its closing time, normally 8 p.m., to 11 p.m. as part of the town's emergency response.
"People have no electricity at home, no water at home, and even if they do have power, many of them have no Internet at home," Knapp explained. "It's been tremendous here because people need a place to go, a place to stay warm, a place to check their E-mail.
She added, "Students have it rough because they still have projects due when they get back. People who work from home have projects still due. ... The library has been filled with grandparents to grandchildren and everything in between."
On Monday and Tuesday night, the library also offered an 8 p.m. movie series for adults and children.
"This place reminded me of an airport when all the planes land and everyone sits in every corner with their legs crossed with their laptops and cell phones," said Marilee Tremlett, a substitute librarian from Stamford. "People have just been flocking here. Everyone came in to charge their laptops and their phones. One woman came with her power strip because she had so many things to charge up."
She added, "I'll tell you one thing, now we know where every last outlet is."