Irene hit Connecticut as a strong tropical storm Sunday with torrential rains and gusty winds that destroyed coastal homes, toppled trees and left a record 800,000 customers without power, surpassing damage from Hurricane Gloria in 1985. More than eight inches of rain fell.
The storm reached New England weaker than expected as it failed to re-intensify after making initial landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane, but it still destroyed or damaged dozens of beachfront homes in East Haven and nearby communities and undermined sections of seawall, walkways and streets.
Schools in many towns will remain closed Monday, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy warned Sunday night that he expected Metro-North to run on a limited schedule, if at all. Connecticut Transit was expected to resume normal operations, except for New Haven, where buses would not begin running until 7 a.m., he said.
Malloy told non-essential state employees to delay their arrivals Monday until 10 a.m. State parks will remain closed at least through Monday to allow for safety inspections.
With more than half the state without power, repairs are likely to take at least a week, the governor said.
One person was a killed in a fire attributed to the storm, and rescuers were searching for a missing canoeist on a flood-swollen river in Bristol and two persons missing from East Haven, Malloy said.
“There is no reason to be on the water at this time,” Malloy said.
The Connecticut, Farmington and Housatonic rivers all flooded, with the Connecticut not expected to crest until Tuesday. On Sunday afternoon, onlookers lined a bridge over the Farmington in the Collinsville section of Canton, where the river thundered over a dam.
State officials reported peak wind gusts of 47 miles per hour in Bridgeport, 51 miles per hour in New London and 36 miles per hour in Hartford. City officials in Bridgeport said winds of 60 miles per hour were recorded at Sikorsky Airport.
The tidal surge was more than 4 feet in Bridgeport, blocking city streets and flooding two power sub-stations, leaving much of the state’s largest city without power and under a nighttime curfew. The sub-stations were pumped out and back on line Sunday afternoon.
In Fairfield, the tide spilled a half-mile inland, and the Saugatuck River flooded in Wesport, one of many rivers and streams that spilled their banks across the state. In the Forestville section of Bristol, the Pequabuck River overflowed and turned East Main Street into a fast-flowing spillway.
Witnesses told authorities they saw two men abandon a red canoe as it sped toward a bridge. One man was seen fleeing; the other other was the object of a search.
A woman in Prospect died in a house fire apparently caused by a falling electric line. Two firefighters were treated for electric shocks.
The New Canaan branch of Metro-North sustained damage to its overhead power lines.
No damage estimates were available, but the the state insurance department granted emergency licenses to 2,000 adjusters to help process claims. The department also established a hurricane web page with advice to homeowners who will be making claims.
But the biggest impact was on the state’s power grid.
Connecticut Light & Power, the state’s largest utility, reported more than 650,000 of its 1.2 million customers without power, while more than 150,000 United Illuminating customers were without service. In most of eastern Connecticut and scattered communities across the rest of the state, power was out to between 81 percent and 100 percent of CL&P customers.
CL&P’s emergency web site and Twitter feed were overwhelmed by people reporting outages or seeking updates. “We’re having technical difficulties due to the amount of texts we’re receiving,” read one Tweet. “Thanks for your patience.”
With power systems damaged from North Carolina to New England, CL&P sought assistance from as far away as Colorado, Malloy said.
Two sub-stations were flooded in Bridgeport, forcing United Illuminating to shut off power to much of the city, he said.
The downtown, east side and areas north and west of the Route 8 connector were blacked out, said Elaine Ficarra, a spokeswoman for the city. Police, fire and the city’s emergency operations center were relying on backup generators.
Mayor Bill Finch ordered an 8 p.m. curfew, which he says will be enforced by police from the city and surrounding communities.
“We want to make sure everyone is safe, especially while the power is out,” Finch said by email. “It’s all about safety. We’ve gotten through the hurricane without any major problems, and we ask everyone to cooperate to maintain order.”
About 6.5 inches of rain fell on Bridgeport by 1 p.m., he said.
Malloy said four hospitals and 20 nursing homes also were relying on generators. He said the utilities still were doing damage assessments and had no estimate of when power would be restored.
Gusty winds throughout the rest of the day were expected to hamper the restoration, he said.
AT&T reported 2,000 utility poles and hundreds of cellular towers damaged in the state, Malloy said.
Restrictions on highway travel were lifted before noon, but Malloy urged motorists to avoid the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways, saying long delays are likely as debris from trees is cleared.
Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy S. Wyman toured damaged area of East Haven and West Haven this afternoon. They also visited an emergency shelter in West Haven. About 2,000 people were in shelters across the state, Malloy said.
In New Hartford, flooding submerged a farm, killing livestock, Malloy said.
Until this morning, Irene was expected to be the first hurricane to reach Connecticut in 20 years, but its sustained winds weakened to 65 miles per hour south of New York, short of the 74 miles-per-hour mark the defines a hurricane.