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Top 10 stories of 2012: No. 1 — Hurricane Sandy devastates Darien

A view of Delafield Island Road Tuesday morning after Hurricane Sandy.

Despite continuous warnings of the severity of Hurricane Sandy, there seemed to be little emotional preparation one can make for a storm like the one that hit Darien and the East Coast at the end of October.

The warnings began the week before, with continuous updates from Gov. Dannel Malloy that as bad as could be imagined, it would be worse. Long-term power outages were to be expected. The Town of Darien issued a mandatory evacuation for coastal areas last weekend and flooding and tides expected to exceed that of the 1938 hurricane.

By that Monday, high winds started in the area and flooding of Darien’s streets and beaches began. A shelter was opened at the high school and schools were closed initially just for Monday and Tuesday. The New York Stock Exchange was also closed Monday, as well as the usual mainstay for power outages — the Darien Library. Town Hall was closed Monday and Tuesday. The Darien Community Association closed for the week. Metro-North suspended train service.

Darien’s fire departments went door-to-door in the town’s coastal area urging residents to evacuate. Despite that, some people opted to stay and needed to be rescued by boat Monday afternoon.

Video: Sandy’s storm surge in Darien

On Monday night, an urgent warning came from First Selectman Jayme Stevenson that indicated tides would be much worse than anticipated and any Darienites who had not evacuated should get to higher ground in their homes.

On Tuesday, Stevenson said the flooding was not as bad as predicted, but there were some homes with flood damage. An estimated 15 to 20 houses were damaged by falling trees and wires.

At its worst, Darien’s outages from Sandy were up to 92%. They remained in the low 80-percentile for several days. During last year’s Tropical Storm Irene aftermath, the highest outages went up to 71%. Last October’s surprise snow storm’s highest outages were at 46%.

Malloy announced that President Barack Obama made an expedited disaster declaration for Connecticut’s shoreline, including Fairfield and New Haven counties, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

“When I spoke with the president earlier today, he made it clear that the federal government was going to do everything in its power to help our residents get back to normal as quickly as possible,” Malloy said. “The fact that this declaration happened so quickly is a real testament to that. This declaration will allow Connecticut to receive important federal assistance that will supplement the state and local recovery efforts needed from the impact of Hurricane Sandy. I want to thank President Obama for his leadership during this difficult time.”

The president’s action authorized the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts toward “alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the declared Connecticut counties,” the president’s declaration stated.

Darien schools were closed through Monday, Nov. 4, when they opened on a delay. Darien’s Halloween celebration was initially postponed and eventually canceled.

Other area towns did not fare much better. New Canaan and Wilton were both in the area of 70 and 80% throughout the week. Ridgefield and Weston were at 100% for a time after the storm. Bill Quinlan of CL&P said Fairfield County was one of the hardest hit areas in the state.

The shelter at Darien High School remained open throughout the week, with water and meals-ready-to-eat, or MREs, were available at the shelter, but hot water was not guaranteed.

Due to the loss of school days, the Darien school district opted to hold classes on Election Day, a previous staff development day. Voters were asked to use caution and avoid voting during arrival and dismissal times.

Darien’s power was not fully restored until the first week of November. Many local groups joined together to bring donations to hard hit areas of New York.

Many in town still remain displaced as heavily damaged shoreline homes are evaluated for either repairs or demolition, and lagging of overburdened insurance companies to pay claims. A recent report from leaders of Fairfield County towns, including Darien’s First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, in the Southwestern Regional Planning Agency slammed Connecticut Light & Power’s response to the storm and power restoration.

“We believe that CL&P’s problems are deeply rooted in its inability and lack fo focus as a company to make massive storm related power outages a major organizational change initiative,” the report said.

On Wednesday, Jan 2, the House of Representatives adjourned without voting on a $60 billion Sandy relief package.

In a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, Malloy criticized the move.

“Your decision to postpone consideration of a disaster supplemental until after the 113th Congress commences likely delays delivery of relief for months, and therefore delays the process of rebuilding from Sandy,” he wrote.

“It sends a terrible message to the citizens of the affected states that the leadership of the House of Representatives feels no sense of urgency, with winter upon us, to aid fellow citizens in their great time of need as the Congress has done time and again when other natural disasters have devastated communities elsewhere in the country,” he said.

Republican leaders have vowed the Sandy recovery package could be voted on by Jan. 15 in the new House session.

Gov. Malloy recently announced FEMA had extended its deadline to file storm related claims through the end of January instead of Dec. 31.

 

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