From 1,500 feet, blacked-out state looks serene

With much of Connecticut still in the dark following a nor’easter that dumped up to two feet on snow on sections of the state, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy found himself back in an Army National Guard helicopter Monday just two months after taking a similar trip to assess the damage from Tropical Storm Irene.

“Flooding is easier to discern,” the governor said following the 58-minute tour that took him from the National Guard base in Windsor Locks across the Farmington Valley, into the Litchfield Hills, and through New Britain and Glastonbury around the southern edge of Hartford County.

But the the governor said that what looked peaceful from 1,500 feet on Monday was particularly deceptive.

Snow-covered houses might look beautiful from that height, but as overnight freezing conditions rose toward the 40s by late morning, the lingering white caps wouldn’t have been there if many of those houses had heat running throughout the night.

“The amount of snow covering roofs is quite extraordinary,” Malloy said. “You can see signs there’s not a lot of power out there.”

The rising temperatures helped finish the jobs of state and municipal public works crews, leaving most Connecticut thoroughfares clear.

“Local roads look to be in pretty good shape, but that’s a block-by-block situation,” the governor said.

But Malloy also noted that his tour also took him over the occasional road still covered snow in sections — a dead giveaway that downed power lines have prevented the plows from moving through.

The relatively show-free roads didn’t stop traffic jams, though, as Malloy noted several prolonged back-ups, including one stretching back more than one-half-mile outside of a Wolcott gasoline station, as motorists struggled to find outlets with the electrical power needed to pump fuel.

Malloy urged consumers to remain patient and to remember that the problem is electrical service, and not a fuel shortage.

“I think everyone has to understand it is not a problem of getting gas to the stations that have power,” he said. “Deliveries are being made.”

The governor also urged those not in need of gasoline at the moment to avoid the long lines.

“If you’ve got three-quarters of a tank, we’re going to get through this,” he said.

The early portions of the governor’s tour took him through the heavily wooded Farmington Valley and portions of Litchfield County.

Fro 1,500 feet, the tree lines were dominated by gold and brown with some green from the pines. But as the governor’s helicopter descended to 500 feet, huge patches of gray broke through, showing broken branches and fallen trees throughout large sections of woodland.

“There’s a lot of damage out there — a lot of trees out there,” Malloy said.

Officials from the state’s two major electric utilities, Connecticut Light & Power Co. and United Illuminating, estimate that outage totals surpassed 880,000 at their peak on Sunday. By comparison, outages topped out at just over 765,000 during Tropical Storm Irene, which hit Connecticut on Aug. 27-28.