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Buffeted by wind gusts from Hurricane Sandy approaching 80 mph and facing a ferocious tidal surge that caused flooding along the shoreline from Old Saybrook to Westerly, hundreds of southeastern Connecticut residents flowed into local emergency shelters Monday, hoping that the homes they had left behind would remain intact overnight.
Flooding risk along the shoreline was expected to be highest during high tides at 10 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. today in New London.
At 7 p.m. Monday, streets in Stonington borough quickly flooded, and the village was cut off from the mainland. Emergency officials worked to set up a makeshift shelter at the borough firehouse for residents who were trapped by the flood waters. The shelter was set up on the second floor because the first floor was flooded.
“The borough is an island right now. There’s nothing we can do about it,” Director of Emergency Preparedness George Brennan said.
Flooding and downed wires and trees were making it almost impossible for emergency personnel to get around town. “A lot of this town is isolated right now. We’re in dire straits if we have to get a firefighter or police officer anywhere,” Brennan said.
Also Monday, the roof of the Quality Inn in Mystic peeled off, and water leaked into the building and flowed into the electrical system.
Officials across the region were most concerned Monday about coastal flooding and downed trees. But today, the biggest problem may be the lack of electricity for the thousands of residents who lost power Monday.
As of 9:30 p.m., Connecticut Light & Power reported 475,839 customers were without power, about 38 percent of the total households served by the utility. Thousands more were expected to lose electricity before the storm finished delivering its worst by Monday evening.
In southeastern Connecticut, the hardest-hit communities were East Lyme, Stonington, Montville, Waterford, Groton, New London, North Stonington, Salem and
“Everybody is affected,” CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross said.
NL, Stonington hard hit
At his 6 p.m. briefing, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reported that the New London and Stonington areas experienced the worst hurricane wind lashings in the state, with ferocious gusts as high as 80 mph, and the highest number of power outages.
“Southeastern Connecticut seems to be the most heavily impacted,” Malloy said.
Malloy had ordered that all major roadways be closed off to non-emergency vehicles by 1 p.m. Monday. New London followed suit, with Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio ordering that city streets also be closed to non-emergency vehicles by 1 p.m.
“To put it in perspective, we’re talking about twice as much water in Long Island Sound than in Irene,” he said.
“I’m not going to mince words,” Malloy said. “This is the most catastrophic event that we have faced and been able to plan for in any of our lifetimes.”
Hundreds of people checked into American Red Cross shelters throughout the region as of midday Monday. Many of the evacuees were fleeing from homes affected by warnings of flooding, which quickly became reality Monday.
In East Lyme, Atlantic Street and Shore Road were flooded. Main Street at Cini Park was closed, as was Route 156 at the Niantic River bridge. Oil Mill Road in Waterford was closed by emergency personnel. Groton Town police reported that Water Street and River Road near Route 27 had flooded.
Dozens of other roads in the region were blocked by downed trees and live wires.
Monday morning’s high tide inundated parts of downtown Mystic, flooding the public parking area and portions of the riverside docks and streets along the Mystic River. Downtown shops, sandbags stacked at their entrances, were closed, and the Mystic River was creeping precariously close to the drawbridge.
Outside the Tradewinds Gallery on West Main Street, John Sarpu made some last-minute preparations, covering the glass entrance with plywood. Sarpu works for Jerome Properties, which owns several downtown buildings.
He said awnings had been cranked in and signs removed. Along with plywood and sandbags, he was using silicone to fill in some of the cracks where water could seep in.
On the Stonington side of the Mystic River, onlookers gathered near the flooded park to watch the water rise. Mystic resident Kathy Gauthier snapped some photos of what she said was “history in the making.”
“I grew up here, and I’ve never seen it like this,” she said.
Gauthier said even her mother, who lived through the Hurricane of 1938, said she was impressed by the height of the water.
In New London, the Cross Sound Ferry parking lot and Water Street were under water, and the city’s animal shelter was crushed by a downed tree. Docks along Pequot Avenue were under water even as low tide approached and winds gusted over 50 mph Monday afternoon.
Both the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the Naval Submarine Base were closed Monday.
Electric Boat closed all three shifts — the first time since the February 2010 blizzard. Robert Hamilton, company spokesman, said no significant damage had been reported at the shipyard.
Unit 3 at the Millstone Power Station reduced its power to 75 percent Monday and installed flood barriers around the plant.
Ken Holt, spokesman for Millstone owner Dominion, said Unit 3 will be better able to handle any storm surges that could affect its intake water system at a lower power output. The lower output will also ensure that the plant would not destabilize the regional power grid if the plant has to shut down due to Hurricane Sandy, he said.
Day Staff Writers Joe Wojtas and Jennifer McDermott contributed to this story.