FAIRFIELD–His shattered rental home was condemned and teetering precariously over Pine Creek, but Andreas Fuchs only smiled when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy stopped to greet him Tuesday with the risky question, “How are you doing?”
Fuchs told the governor he was grateful.
Authorities had allowed him and his wife to take shelter during Irene with their five dogs, knowing that pet owners in New Orleans had been forced to abandon their animals during Katrina.
The same authorities let him carefully creep back into the house Tuesday, with its floor sloping on a funhouse angle toward the creek, now swollen with a rising tide. He grabbed what he could, filling boxes, trash bags and a dented suitcase.
“Thank you,” Fuchs said, holding leashes with three dogs.
Malloy shook and the man’s hand and said, “Hang in there.”
The governor toured Fairfield Beach Road, where the storm surge swept one house away and irrevocably damaged a few others, including Fuchs’, by sweeping over a barrier beach where modest cottages and great shingled houses sit cheek to cheek.
First Selectman Michael C. Tetreau escorted the governor to the western end of the road, where a utility pole tilted at a 45-degree angle and at least three homes were posted as “unsafe.”
Water ran underneath two of the houses, lapping at the road. The beach was gone, with much of the sand pushed inland. Sand and rocks were piled in side yards, scooped off the road like a winter’s snow.
“This is quite awesome,” Malloy said.
There would be a beach at low tide, but not the 100-foot buffer that existed before Irene crashed ashore Sunday, sending water a half-mile inland up a road littered with sand and dripping with irony: Reef Road.
State officials had warned to expect flooding at roughly same levels as the so-called “Perfect Storm” from the fall of 1992, which spawned tales of heroism and loss at sea.
“I think it was a pretty good planning tool,” Malloy said.
“We needed a visual planning tool,” Tetreau said. “That was on the money.”
As is the case with the rest of the state, Fairfield had no tally yet of financial losses, but the evolution of its beachfront from a colony of seasonal cottages decades ago to a linear neighborhood of year-round homes will mean higher damages.
Chris Tracy, the assistant fire chief, acted as tour guide for a contingent of reporters from across the state and New York City. He worked straight through the storm, confident that his family was out of harm’s way in Vermont.
It turned out they were cut off by the flash flooding that swept Vermont, but safe.
Malloy, who took an aerial tour of the state Monday, inspected Bridgeport, Fairfield and his hometown of Stamford on Tuesday. He would see his home near the shore for the first time since the storm.
He was told it was undamaged
“I just wanted to see this part of the state personally,”
He was joined by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and two state legislators from Fairfield, Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney and Rep. Tony Hwang. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman was touring eastern Connecticut with U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney.
The governor already was facing questions about the performance of the utilities in restoring electricity. With more than half the state without power at the peak, Irene set a record for outages.
“I’m not making any excuses for the utility companies. That’s not my job,” Malloy said. “But look at the scope of this thing.”
With damage stretching from the Carolinas to New England and into Canada, getting extra crews has become a competition. The state’s largest utility, Connecticut Light & Power, was flying linesmen in from as far away as Washington state, Malloy said.
“We have 40 percent of our state without power right now,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Malloy used an appearance on the cable television show Morning Joe to appeal for help from out-of-state utilities.
“Anybody who’s seeing this from another state who has crews they can lend our state, we’d very much appreciate it,” he said. “Our utilities will hire them.”
Malloy said Connecticut utilities are restoring power according to a hierarchy of need: Hospitals and nursing homes first, and now sewage and water treatment plants running on overtaxed generators.
“We are working to identify more resources. Energy is going to be the big issue, and it’s going to be the big issue for the next seven days.”
Malloy spoke Monday with a federal energy official, Patricia Hoffman, asking her if she could help divert more crews to Connecticut.
The governor was asked if he had any advice for people still waiting for power or access to homes blocked by trees or downed lines.
“Who am I to give advice to folks?” he said.
He knows that frustration will become an issue. It was on display at a Starbucks in Fairfield, where every seat was taken by patrons plugging in dead laptops and cell phones.
In the corner, a young woman was on her cell phone, loudly complaining about the hardship of life without cable. She had been without service for a little more than two days.
“Cablevision sucks,” she said.
On Fairfield Beach Road, Andreas Fuchs complained to no one. After the press and governor left, he planned to pack up his suitcase, his boxes, his plastic trash bags and a drop-leaf table.
Along with the dogs, it all would fit in the back of a van rented from Enterprise.