Along the shore: Assessing damages, and mopping up
While towns across the shoreline are dealing with significant damage that may take weeks to repair fully, emergency officials agreed across-the-board that things could have been far worse.
Before the noon high tide Tuesday, shoreline areas in East Haven and Branford that were hit hardest by Tropical Storm Irene got a daylight look at damage from midnight’s high tide, the most worrisome of the 24-hour period. For the most part, they were able to breathe a bit easier.
In the Cosey Beach area, two homes were total losses — a far cry from the two dozen that were little more than piles of splinters after Irene. Residents were happy with just having sand and water in their homes and basements.
The general feeling was that the tidal surge was less than predicted. “Oh yeah, absolutely,” said Sen. Len Fasano, a North Haven Republican (and self-professed weather-geek), whose district includes East Haven where he has a home on Cosey Beach and owns the Silver Sands Beach Club. “The storm peaked well before high tide. That was key, and the duration was not as long as we anticipated.”
That said, his beach club, which took a $3 million hit in Irene, was faced with damage again. “For Tropical Storm Irene, I lost a building — the restaurant. Rebuilt the restaurant to FEMA specs including vents to let the water go through. Didn’t lose a wall,” he said.
“But there’s a lot of sand where we shouldn’t be having sand.”
Mayor Joe Maturo said the hardest hit parts of town were Morgan Point and Cosey Beach, though Morgan Point had more trees down and wider spread power problems. He expects schools to be closed again Wednesday, and perhaps more critical in the eyes of some, no Trick or Treating. Too many lines down, he said.
Homes that were severely damaged in the Short Beach section during Irene came through Sandy mainly intact, though some seawalls that had been repaired after Irene were re-damaged. Residents said while they had water in their basements, it was a foot or two lower than during Irene.
East-facing structures like those at Johnson’s Beach were damaged worse than during Irene, with decks ripped off and water gouging its way underneath. Flooding was also heavy in Stony Creek and along Limewood Beach — again where Irene had done heavy damage.
But police Capt. Geoffrey Morgan dispelled the notion that Sandy was less serious than Irene. “Irene did a little bit of the dirty work,” he said. “Had we not had Irene, it would have been worse.” He said the town was generally better prepared. Many of the town’s two dozen pumping stations had new generators. More sandbags were available, and the tree canopy was smaller than before Irene.
But he said there was a half-hour period when 80 trees came down, adding to widespread power outages. Though the substation — vulnerable to flooding — came through with no difficulty. Tree crews are out, and some power has been restored.
As of 3 p.m., 74 percent of Connecticut Light & Power customers, or more than 12,000, were without power.
Flooding is the key problem “There are people who are isolated,” said Lt. Robert Robinson. “Anyplace close to the water.”
That includes Sachem’s Head and Indian Cove. “I think it’s worse than Irene,” Robinson said.
“Last night I worked during the high tide. I worked during the peak. The water came within 200 yards of the post office in the center of town. I think the trees-down isn’t as bad. I though the flooding was worse.”
Almost 90 percent of the town remained without power at midafternoon.
Thousands were evacuated Monday night in Greenwich, Bridgeport and Stamford in anticipation of a huge storm surge that turned out to be smaller than expected. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had warned Stamford officials that the city’s hurricane barrier could be breached — but ultimately, it never came close.
Earlier in the afternoon on Tuesday, things in Bridgeport seemed to be looking up when Governor Dannel Malloy visited a downtown substation that had not flooded, as was feared.
“This is a success, right here,” Malloy said, pointing at the substation on Congress Street. United Illuminating had pre-emptively shut down the station along with two others in the city on Monday night, affecting about 50,000 customers, but the flooding never came to pass. The Congress Street station, spared by several inches, was re-energized at midday Tuesday.
During Malloy’s visit around 2 p.m. Tuesday, the city’s mayor Bill Finch said he was optimistic that some of the city would regain power as early as Tuesday night. But as of 8 p.m., 41,000 in the city (more than 70 percent of customers) were still out of power — actually a larger number than the 39,000 that were in the dark several hours ago.
“It is extremely disappointing that United Illuminating has not been able to restore power to more areas of our city,” Finch said in a statement Tuesday night. “UI promised the Governor, City officials and I this morning that power would be restored for the entire city by the end of the day, but it has not occurred. I have let officials at UI know of my disappointment and have asked them to speed up their repairs.”
Finch and Bridgeport school superintendant Paul Vallas had also hoped the district might be open tomorrow, even announcing during Malloy’s visit that most schools would open. But by nighttime the city announced its schools will remain closed.
Overall, though, Finch was counting his blessings Tuesday. Nearly 100 trees were downed in the hurricane, but only about a third of them tangled dangerously with electrical wires — meaning utility crews can already start to work on restoring power to the city.
“Lot of trees miraculously missed wires,” Finch said. “Beginner’s luck, maybe, with the first superstorm.”
Malloy cautioned that many on the Fairfield County shoreline would not have power for a while. Downed trees and wires still cover the streets in some areas of Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk and Fairfield yesterday, making it difficult for trucks to reach them.
“This is not a power-on day, this is an assessment day, so these folks can really figure out what needs to be done,” he said.
Tad Diesel, a Norwalk spokesman, said Tuesday morning, “There are widespread power and communication outages remaining in the city,” and that residents are advised to stay in their homes today and report downed power lines.
Still, there was good news to report. The situation with the city’s sewage treatment plant is “much better than expected,” Diesel said.
Norwalk had shut down its sewage treatment plant Monday night and asked residents to conserve water, but the city was able to turn it back on about midnight since flooding never occurred.
Diesel said Norwalk is already beginning to shift into “recovery mode,” with CL&P employees prepared to clear trees off roads today. More than 18,000 customers, or 60 percent of the city, was without power as of midday.
Greenwich may not come close to recovery mode for far longer, said emergency management Director Dan Warzoha. While storm surges were lower than many had feared, Warzoha said there is almost no road access in any direction throughout the town, and the 22,000 customers (about 81 percent of all customers) who are in the dark won’t get power back today.
“There will be no power restoration today,” he said. “The whole [goal] is going to be, make [things] safe and try and get roads open. In fact, that may be the case for several days.”
The town saw winds gusting as high as 72 mph Monday night, and multiple houses caught fire, but no injuries or fatalities have been reported, Warzoha said.
City emergency management Director Tom Lombardo said Tuesday morning that “it’s prudent” for residents to stay inside, since debris litters the streets, and downed power lines have not all been de-energized. But he believes the worst is over, with the high tide at noon expected not to be “nearly as bad” as last night’s storm surge — which was also far smaller than expected.
Many residents in Stamford were evacuated who were ultimately not affected by the storm surge last night, Lombardo said.
The city had required some 800 people living in flood zones known as Category 1 and 2 to leave Sunday, then hastily evacuated more Monday night after Malloy suggested the city’s hurricane barrier might be breached. But that did not happen.
“All of our modeling here, and the modeling from the [Army] Corps of Engineers, said that it would hold,” Lombardo said of the barrier. Malloy also suggested last night that “thousands” of people who did not heed evacuation warnings may have been stranded, but Fairfield County towns received few, if any, calls from people asking to be rescued last night.
Huge trees are down all over Stamford, and about 70 percent of the city is out of power. But Lombardo said he expects some power to be restored today, though “it’s going to be a slow, arduous process.”
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