Cleanup begins after massive power outage due to storm
It will be days before power is fully restored to Greenwich residents after a powerful storm ripped through the area Saturday evening, causing the death of one backcountry woman and plunging thousands of others into the dark, said officials.
"We don't know how long it will be but the first priority is to clear the main routes," said First Selectman Peter Tesei.
"This is the worst storm we have had in decades," he said, adding the damage was more widespread than caused by the Nor'easter that struck in 1992.
Tesei declared a state of emergency at 1:40 a.m. Sunday as the storm plunged two-thirds -- just under 18,000 -- of the town's Connecticut Light & Power 27,955 customers into darkness.
More than 70 percent of the outages in the state were confined to the Norwalk, Stamford and Greenwich areas, said Katie Blint, a CL&P spokeswoman. Sunday evening, about 80,000 Connecticut Light & Power customers remained in the dark during a blackout that Blint said could last several days.
Winds gusted as high as 60 miles per hour, said Emergency Response Coordinator Daniel Warzoha.
But help is on the way, Blint said. Crews from Ohio, Vermont and other states along with some from the province of Quebec in Canada will be part of the cleanup effort, she said.
In a release issued Sunday evening by the town, it said 25 crews from Ohio will begin work Monday at 6 a.m. to restore power.
An additional 50 crews are expected to arrive later Monday. The Horseneck commuter parking lot will be closed to commuters as CL&P crews will use it to park their vehicles.
Old Greenwich resident Susanne West is hunkering down since she doesn't expect to have power for a few days.
The Saint Claire Avenue resident said an official -- she couldn't recall if it was a town employee or a CL&P employee -- stopped in Sunday to check the damage on the street and told them where they stood on the pecking order.
"He said we're just not a priority because we are a side street," she said.
On her street a utility pole snapped and lay across the street preventing access to 19 and 26 Saint Claire Ave., at the end of the roadway.
The remains of a massive tree lay on both sides of the street after residents cut through it to allow access.
She heard the tree come down.
"It sounded like a huge crack," she said. "It was almost like a lightning strike in your front yard."
The damage was similar across town as trees either lay flat on roadways, atop roofs, or in a couple of cases on police cars. No officers were injured, Ridberg said.
On Boulder Brook Road, though, a 61-year-old woman died after she was hit by a tree at about 6:30 p.m. while walking with her husband in the backcountry area of the road in northeast Greenwich, police said. Her husband, who was slightly injured, was treated and released from Greenwich Hospital. The couple were believed to be walking to a neighbor's home for dinner, said police.
Greenwich Police did not release the woman's name pending notification of additional family members.
In Westport, meanwhile, police department officials said that Jennifer Thibault, 39, of Long Valley, N.J., was killed when a tree fell onto her car as she was driving northbound on Park Lane at about 7 p.m. Her three passengers, whom police did not identify, were transported to Norwalk Hospital for treatment, police said.
Thibault was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. The accident remains under investigation.
Four more fatalities were reported regionwide because of the storm, which also caused flight delays and diversions, as well as scattered service disruptions on Metro-North and Amtrak trains, according to the Associated Press.
Some motorists were also trapped in their cars for hours because downed trees prevented them from moving their vehicles, said Lt. Richard Cochran. He said they were also fearful of electrocution because of power lines that also crashed to the ground around them.
Fairfield was one of the communities most hard hit, with numerous reports of overturned boats in marinas, downed wires and impassable streets littered with branches and entire trees.
Anne Herman, of 358 Katona Drive, Fairfield, was one of the thousands of area residents who undoubtedly experienced storm-related scares and inconveniences. After returning home Saturday at about 6:30 p.m. from an early dinner with her daughter and granddaughter, Herman discovered that a huge fir tree, several decades old, had collapsed on utility wires at her house.
Diane Ragosta, who lives at Jensen's Mobile Home Park in Danbury, said she's developed a routine when the forecast calls for heavy rain. If it's still coming down at 9 p.m., Ragosta slips on the hip-high waders she purchased several years ago, wades out to her car, moves it to higher ground, then slogs back through the rising water to her trailer.
She did it again Saturday, when a wind-whipped storm dropped 3.45 inches of rain on the Danbury area, bringing down trees and wires, flooding basements, blocking roads, leaving thousands of residents without power and, as usual, flooding the mobile home park bordering the Still River on the western edge of the city.
Tesei urged residents to remain cautious because of the damage posed by trees and power lines that may be down. He also recommended they drive as little as possible to keep streets clear for power workers.
He also expressed annoyance with people who decided to walk or drive as emergency crews dealt with the cleanup. He said this was particularly apparent in Old Greenwich and Greenwich Point.
"We have people out walking their dogs," said an irritated Tesei. "We are trying everything we can and they (walkers and motorists) are getting in the way. It defies common sense and logic."
The town closed Greenwich Point Sunday afternoon.
Schools will also be closed Monday as the cleanup continues, said Tesei.
The Western Greenwich Civic Center was opened as a precaution in case residents without power needed a warm place to stay, but the milder late winter weather may convince some people to stay at home, Tesei said.
"Fortunately we have a situation where it's neither hot or cold."
Some areas of town escaped major damage like Chickahominy, Byram and Pemberwick, said Tesei. But other areas like the backcountry and North Mianus sustained major damage and power outages.
He estimated about 700 trees on both private and public property toppled over and that about three dozen utility poles snapped in the storm.
The town increased hours at the transfer station from 3 to 6 p.m. to help in the cleanup. Trees and tree limbs will be accepted.
The state of emergency will allow the town to ask for state and federal dollars to help pay the cleanup bill, but he didn't have a dollar estimate of the damage. Warzoha said state emergency officials were in Greenwich Sunday to assess the damage and provide aid, he said.
Police dispatchers were swamped as hundreds of calls flooded in from residents asking for help.
"We were inundated with calls," said Cochran. "At one point we just couldn't answer all the calls during the height of the storm. You feel terrible because you want to help but you can't, it's just impossible."
In a 24-hour period between 3 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday the department received 851 calls. In 2009, the average daily call volume was 161.5, said police.
Not every caller was calling about damage to their home, however.
"We got four or five calls from people wondering if the St. Patrick's Day Parade was on," said Cochran with a shake of his head. The parade is next weekend.
"There was even one caller who wanted to know if the parade had been Saturday would it have gone ahead," said Cochran with a more vigorous shake of his head.
Staff Writer Frank MacEachern can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-625-4434.