Malloy warns storm represents ‘largest threat to human life’ in ‘anyone’s lifetime’

As schools across the state announced they would be closed at least Monday and Tuesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy prepared residents Sunday for a hurricane that could be marked by unprecedented flooding and wind.

Connecticut’s electric utilities said they already had more line and tree-removal workers on hand than they did at the start of last year’s worst storms.

Also during a briefing at the state armory in Hartford, Malloy pushed back Connecticut’s voter registration deadline and ordered all nonessential state employees to remain home Monday when Hurricane Sandy is expected to strike the state.

“This is the largest threat to human life that our state has experienced in anyone’s lifetime,” Malloy said, noting that the principle danger lies in projected Long island Sound wave surges expected to range from 7 to 10 feet — roughly twice the surges recorded in August 2011 during Tropical Storm Irene.

The governor urged shoreline residents to comply promptly with evacuations being mandated in low-lying areas throughout all of Connecticut’s shoreline communities.

“This is not a joke,” the governor said during the 6 p.m. briefing. “This is a real warning of possible death by drowning.”

And because wind gusts are expected to range from 40 mph to 60 mph — and continue for far longer than those recorded during a typical hurricane — those wave surges also are likely to cause flooding inland around rivers and streams that feed into the Sound.

Both Malloy and National Weather Service officials have referred to Hurricane Sandy as a hybrid storm. It features the strong wind gusts of a hurricane and has the prolonged intensity — if not the snow — of a nor’easter. For example, while wind gusts were at their most intense for no more than 12 hours during Tropical Storm Irene, which began as a hurricane before it struck Connecticut — peak winds are expected to continue for as long as 36 hours in this weather event, starting about noon Monday.

“The last time we saw anything like this, was never,” Malloy added.

Because of the prolonged intensity of the wind, officials from the state’s two electric utilities warned it could be a while before their crews can respond to any damage caused by the storm.

“We can’t even walk down the street with umbrellas in 40 mph winds,” said John Prete, vice president of United Illuminating. “I cannot throw out linemen in harm’s way, nor will I.”

UI serves about one-fifth of the state’s electric customers, primarily in Fairfield and south central Connecticut, and Prete said his utility also is closely watching key electric substations in New Haven, Milford, Fairfield and Bridgeport — all of which could be affected by flooding.

Prete said his company already has nearly 500 line and tree-removal workers on hand, and he expected to have another 600 in the state by the end of the night Sunday.

The state’s largest electric utility, Connecticut Light & Power Co., absorbed the bulk of criticism after it failed to meet its own deadline to restore power following the nor’easter that struck the state Oct. 29, 2011.

More than 800,000 CL&P customers lost power, and all outages weren’t corrected until 12 days after the storm.

But Bill Quinlan, CL&P’s vice president for emergency preparedness, said that by the end of Sunday night, his company would have 1,060 line workers and 550 tree removal workers from out of state on hand in Connecticut to complement its in-state contingent of 400 line workers and 300 tree removal workers.

Both Quinlan and Prete said these surpass the size of the crews that had been assembled in advance of the 2011 storms.

And CL&P still expects to meet its goal of bringing a total of 2,700 out-of-state line and tree workers here before the storm response ends. “We’re making good progress on our target,” Quinlan said.

CL&P has been careful not to predict how many outages might be caused by the storm, but spokesman Mitch Gross said the company has prepared for scenarios that could yield between 300,000 and 600,000 outages for CL&P customers alone. CL&P serves about 80 percent of Connecticut, or more than 1.2 million households and businesses.

Also Sunday, Malloy signed an executive order moving the deadline for potential voters to register in time to cast ballots on Election Day.

The registration deadline has been moved from 8 p.m., Tuesday, to 8 p.m., Thursday.

“I do not want people to try to register to vote in the middle of a storm,” the governor said.

And what if sustained power outages persist through Election Day, which is Nov. 6?

“We will cross that bridge when we’re up to it,” Malloy added.

In addition to ordering all nonessential state employees not to report to work Monday, the governor also announced that the Judicial Branch had given a similar order to its staff.

The University of Connecticut also announced that it would close on Monday.

Fairfield County

The mayors of Norwalk, Stamford and Bridgeport have called for residents in low-lying areas to evacuate, some as early as noon on Sunday. Fairfield is also evacuating its residents who live on the shoreline, including Fairfield University students who live on the beach. For residents in certain areas, those evacuations are mandatory. Stamford and Greenwich public schools will be closed through at least Wednesday. In much of the rest of the county, including Bridgeport, Norwalk and Darien, schools are closed Monday and Tuesday.

The University of Bridgeport ordered a mandatory evacuation of its main campus that began Sunday at 4 p.m. Students were bussed to an elementary school in Bridgeport or to Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. A note on the university’s website told students they should expect to be in the shelters for several days.

“This storm has the potential to be unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetime,” said Bridgeport’s Mayor Bill Finch in a statement. “…We’re preparing for Category 2 type hurricane flooding, which we’ve never experienced.”

According to the National Weather Service, the city may experience storm surges of up to 10 feet Monday night. In a public alert message to Stamford residents, Mayor Michael Pavia said high tides may reach as high as 8 to 10 inches above normal high tides.

In upper Fairfield County, school districts have also announced they are closing. Danbury Public Schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday.

Most transit systems have also shut down, with Metro-North’s last trains done by 7 p.m. on Sunday and bus systems suspending service Sunday night. Bridgeport Transit’s buses stopped running Sunday at 8 p.m., while Connecticut Transit, which operates buses in New Haven, Hartford, Stamford, Waterbury and other cities, will not operate Monday.