Old Saybrook — It took a hurricane for many of the neighbors at Chalker Beach to meet. And in the aftermath of Sandy, they became one another’s support system.

“You have got to cheer up. You have so many more memories to look forward to,” Patty Cornelio, whose family house sustained significant damage by the storm, was told by a neighbor she had never met before.


Al Chiulli with Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman at Chalker Beach pointing out the hardest hit houses

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Chalker Beach at low tide following the storm

A few minutes later Al Chiulli was standing on another neighbor’s porch consoling them. Their house had washed out into Long Island Sound.

“I can’t believe we’ve been neighbors for 20 years, and we didn’t meet until now,” he said.

Chalker may be the hardest hit beach in the Old Saybrook, Westbrook, Clinton beachfront areas: 15 houses were significantly damaged by wind, and many more by flooding.

In addition, two homes were destroyed by a late-night fire that emergency personnel could not get to because the houses were surrounded by several feet of water.

“There is nothing more frustrating to us than to have an emergency and for us to not being able to do anything,” Old Saybrook’s Fire Chief J.T. Dunn told Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who toured the beach and still smoldering structures Tuesday afternoon. “We tried to get here, but we couldn’t.”

Wyman said this storm was “as bad as it could have been.”

Two National Guard helicopters circled the beach late Tuesday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency was also in the state.

Wyman said two people so far are thought to have lost their lives in Connecticut from the storm, an older woman in Mansfied and an emergency first responder in Easton.

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Jeffrey Ratner expects his Old Saybrook beach house to be declared a complete loss. (Jacki Rabe Thomas photo)

Wyman said the amount of property damaged by the storm is still being assessed.

Debbie and Jeffrey Ratner expect their summer cottage to be declared a complete loss.

“Look, that half of the house is gone,” said Debbie Ratner, who was searching for the barn and storage unit where her family had put all their belongings as the house was renovated after damage from Tropical Storm Irene a year ago.

“If you find it, let us know,” she told a neighbor.

A few minutes later, that neighbor told her he had located her storage unit. It was three blocks away.

Follow Jacqueline Rabe Thomas on Twitter and Facebook.

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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