Malloy closes highways, but storm surge is biggest danger
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered limited-access highways closed to all but emergency traffic by 1 p.m. today as sustained winds were expected to hit 40 mph by 3 p.m., with gusts between 50 and 90 mph. Winds are not forecast to subside until early Tuesday.
A ban on trucks took effect at 11 a.m., with the rest of the state’s highways closed two hours later. Malloy urged everyone to abide by the closure, but he said state police enforcement would focus on large empty trucks that pose the greatest danger of tipping in high winds.
“What I’m hoping for is that people stay off the roads. That’s what we’re trying to get to,” Malloy said. “If you are not being evacuated, stay home.”
A storm surge on tonight’s high tide is expected to cause record coastal flooding, endangering electric substations in Stamford, Bridgeport and Branford. Workers were building an emergency berm in Stamford.
United Illuminating is likely to shut off power to the Congress Street substation in Bridgepoprt before the midnight high tide, plunging the downtown into darkness and leaving its newspaper, the Connecticut Post, without power.
With a wind shift to the east, the noon high tide was not as bad as expected, Malloy said.
“It’s the one at midnight tonight that we are most worried about,” Malloy said. “We are looking for a surge of 7 to 11 feet above the normal hgh tide.”
Malloy said officials feared that wave action combined with the surge could top an 11-foot dike in Stamford, where he was mayor for 14 years.
By noon, the National Guard had 1,150 soldiers on duty at armories throughout the state, ready with heavy equipment to clear roads and high-water vehicles capable of assisting local authorities with evacuations.
Col. John Whitford, the spokesman for the Guard, said 700 personnel are deployed overseas, as was the case last year during Irene and the Oct. 29 nor’easter. The Connecticut Guard has close to 5,000 members.
Bridgeport, the state’s largest city, has huge numbers of residents located in evacuation zones deemed at high risk for flooding, the governor said, adding that emergency personnel continue to use buses to remove residents.
“Get out before you can’t,” Malloy said, urging residents in all communities to obey evacuation orders, adding that those living near rivers and streams affected by the tides in Long Island Sound also may need to move.
Executives from both of the state’s major electric utilities, Connecticut Light & Power Co. and United Illuminating, warned they would shut down substations, blacking out thousands of residents, if flooding became certain.
William Quinlan, CL&P’s vice president for emergency preparedness, said the state’s largest electric utility was erecting a 6-foot-high concrete dike Monday morning to protect a crucial substation in Stamford that serves about 7,900 homes and businesses.
UI Vice President John Prete said his company continues to closely watch key shoreline substations in New Haven, Milford, Fairfield and Bridgeport, each of which serves between 6,000 and 20,000 customers. Though these stations never have been damaged yet to to flooding, the utility is considering pre-emptively shutting them down Monday to avoid something far worse.
“We can’t have a catastrophic failure,” he said, adding that were the facilities operating when breached by floodwaters, the damage caused would require “weeks, not days” to fix.
UI’s Bridgeport Congress Street substation was shut down during Irene as a precaution. CL&P is trying to protect the Stamford station, because it backs into a hill and is already protected on two sides. Quinlan said the Branford station is too big to protect with a makeshift berm.
Quinlan said CL&P is studying its infrastructure to determine if historic flood maps still were relevant in judging risk.
Malloy said Long Island Sound acts as a funnel, narrowing at the western end, near Stamford and New York. Wind is driving the water west, with each successive tide hitting higher levels.
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