At 8 p.m. Monday, one-half of Stamford was in the dark, and Norwalk had shut down its sewage plant. Also in Fairfield County, the expected shutdown of electric substations in Bridgeport was to turn off power to 50,000 city residents and businesses.
Meanwhile, just before 1 p.m. Monday, these were the reports from some shoreline towns in Fairfield and New Haven counties:
In East Haven and Branford — two shoreline communities hard hit during Tropical Storm Irene — the first high tide of Sandy came and went without too much incident. Officials in both towns said the water was high, but more or less what they’d expected with a full moon high tide, and possibly even lower than they anticipated.
East Haven: In the hour before high tide late this morning, East Haven police and fire units patrolled along the edge of Cosey Beach, keeping cars and curiosity-seekers out. Even before the tide peaked, water was flowing onto Cosey Beach Avenue, at times under homes still under reconstruction after Irene.
“Some people haven’t finished rebuilding here yet,” said police Lt. Frank Montagna. “Now they’re going to lose everything again.”
But this time, almost everyone heeded the warning to evacuate. And Mayor Joe Maturo said there was better preparation. “The big difference I see is equipment is dispersed in a better, more orderly manner,” he said. “Another big difference is the governor has agreed to my request to send the National Guard to our town.”
Branford: Evacuations were ordered on Sunday for shoreline roads and areas that typically flood, and indeed after the morning high tide, First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos said some areas were under water. But the real test, he said, would be the midnight high tide.
He, too, said preparations, and in particular preparation by CL&P was much better. “CL&P has been very responsive,” he said. A representative was in the emergency office and tree and line crews were made available beginning Sunday.
But more than anything, DaRos said, CL&P has promised to provide better information than it did during Irene, when much of the town was without power for about a week. “We need to have real information,” said DaRos. “If it’s bad news, I want to know. This time they’re going to tell us the worst-case scenario. Now we can at least plan.”
Residents in the Short Beach section that borders the Farm River and East Haven, said they weren’t seeing anything they hadn’t expected yet, though water had already cut off a few areas. Many had only recently finished rebuilding after Irene and so had boarded up more securely than last time.
But some felt the easterly wind would actually help their south-facing properties a bit. “The worst is going to be tomorrow morning — it’s going be southeast,” said Eric Carlson who was getting ready to head out with his wife Carol. They had 4 feet of water in Irene, and the street behind their home was impassable at high tide. “Southeast’s much better. Southeast will push it a little towards this way, but south comes directly at us. That killed us in Irene.”
— Jan Ellen Spiegel
Greenwich: Reached by phone at Greenwich’s emergency operations center about noon, emergency management Director Dan Warzoha said the town is preparing for the worst. Warzoha has been doing emergency management in Greenwich since March 1969, and he said he’s never seen anything like this before.
“This evening, we’re expecting what could be record high tides and way beyond anything we’ve seen,” he said, “and it’s difficult to fathom the potential damage that could result from that level of catastrophic flooding.”
Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for an estimated 16,000 residents, Warzoha said — assuming that each household consists of four people. He said the town did a good job of getting the word out, and although only a few dozen people are residing at the town’s designated emergency shelters, most people who needed to leave their homes have done so.
“We’ve seen a lot of people just self-evacuate,” he said, adding that many decided to leave when the town announced Sunday that schools would be closed through Wednesday.
Stamford: Emergency management Director Tom Lombardo said about 800 people — anyone living in Category 1 or 2 flood zones — have been asked to evacuate. (By comparison, during Tropical Storm Irene only a small portion of residents living in Category 1 zones were asked to leave.) Those living in Categories 3 and 4 flood zones have been told to stand by pending the next high tide, which is expected at 12:06 a.m. tonight. Tens of thousands of people live in those zones.
High tide at 11:40 a.m. put some water out onto Stamford roadways, primarily in the low-lying neighborhood of Shippan Point. Nothing is “impassable” yet, Lombardo said, but the water hasn’t left the roadways yet either because of the direction of the wind.
“At the 11:40 a.m. tide, we were probably about even with where we were at the end of the August storm last year,” Lombardo said — but the worst is yet to come.
United Illuminating and Connecticut Light & Power executives are concerned about substations in low-lying areas that are scattered throughout Fairfield County. UI nearly shut down its downtown substation in Bridgeport at noon, which would have affected about 35,000 customers in Bridgeport. The utility canceled those plans as predicted surges from the 11:40 a.m. high tide were better than expected, but warns it may have to shut down the station later today if flooding becomes more likely.
In Stamford, CL&P workers have been building a 6-foot concrete wall around the city’s downtown substation since early this morning. Lombardo said the wall should be completed by later in the afternoon, several hours before the next high tide.
— Neena Satija
Westport: The town is a ghost town, perfectly cast for a spooky Halloween scene. Main roads near the Long Island Sound, Compo Beach and Saugatuck River sound are closed to traffic, and many people have evacuated low lying areas.
There is some flooding which will likely get much worse. But flooding is mostly tide-related, not caused by rain. There’s been little rain. Total estimate for most towns in Fairfield County is +/- one inch. That’s good news because in past storms, rain-soaked trees were uprooted by strong winds.
The winds are probably 30 mph now and forecasted to go as high as 75-80 this afternoon. That will bring down trees and cause power outages.
The Town of Westport has a “red alert” phone system that provides all residents recorded updates 2-3 times a day. Also, Cablevision’s News 12 does a good job reporting on the storm, school closings etc. Of course if power and cable go out, so do they.
Similar reports from Wilton, Norwalk and New Canaan.
— Jim Cutie
Lower Connecticut River: High water is also threatening the lower Connecticut River, which rises and falls with the tides.
Steve Leonti and a co-worker are on top of a tractor after moving a boat away from the docks at Chester‘s Chrisholm Marina. They say they’re hoping the water coming in from Long Island Sound doesn’t get so high that the docks start to float away.
“The water was 2 feet from the top of the pilings. So we were actually kind of concerned about our docks coming off the pilings during Irene. You know, I mean, if that happens, there’s nothing we can really do,” Leonti said.
“Because of hauling season, all of our high ground is already taken by the boats we’ve already hauled. So, I mean, to haul a boat and put it somewhere where it’s probably going to end up floating anyways if the water comes up as high as Irene is kind of senseless. So we just told them to stay in the water.”
Downriver from Chester, Jim Brown and others are stowing a big mast at Brewer Deep River Marina.
“They’re telling me 2 feet more than Irene, probably 3 feet of water where we’re standing,” Brown said.
If that happens, much of the marina’s dry land will be under water. And that could pose a problem. Brown said he has about 100 boats on land in winter storage.
“Where we’re standing could be 2 to 3 feet, which could be pretty high. I’ve seen higher, but not with this many boats on land.”
Brown said there is a “potential for stuff to float or fall over, I mean, especially with wind gusts up to 70 mph, it’s going to be dangerous.
“And my fear also is it’s going to happen in the middle of the night, which really limits what we can do, if anything. There’s nothing you can do in the middle of the night. You just hope for the best. You prepare for the worst and hope for the best. It’s all we can do.”
— Jeff Cohen, WNPR
Norwalk: Norwalk has not issued any mandatory evacuations, but the mayor has “strongly suggested” that those living in flood-prone areas — about 3,300 residences in total — leave their homes, city spokesman Tad Diesel said.
“The mayor has relied on the good judgment of adults to make their decision,” Diesel said, adding that if the city had ordered a mandatory evacuation, it would have to devote resources “that could be better used elsewhere.” He wasn’t sure how many heeded the warnings, though emergency personnel have gone door-to-door to warn residents in the most low-lying areas.
Many roads in Norwalk already see flooding even just during normal lunar high tide, Diesel said. When the next high tide occurs tonight around midnight, water levels are expected to be 5-6 feet above normal — resulting in potentially catastrophic street flooding this time around in those areas of Norwalk.
Such high water levels are worrying operators at Norwalk’s sewer treatment plant. The walls around the plant are several feet high, but the amount of water expected at the next high tide could actually exceed that height and flood the entire plant, Diesel said. In that case, the entire plant would need to be shut down — and it would not be able to begin operating again until all the equipment has been dried out. That could be days in which raw sewage enters the plant and flows right back out into the water without treatment.
If such an event happens, Diesel said, residents will be asked to conserve water as much as possible. “Don’t flush, don’t use the dishwasher,” Diesel said. Several pumping stations that feed into the plant may also have to be shut down due to flooding; one such station in Rowayton has already been shut down, and Diesel said the residents there are already being asked to conserve water.
The sewage treatment plant in the neighboring town of Stamford may also be compromised, with key pieces of equipment in need of repairs. Stamford’s emergency management Director Tom Lombardo referred questions to the Stamford Water Pollution Control Authority; no one from the WPCA has returned requests for comment yet.
— Neena Satija