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VIDEO: Stonington residents see homes destroyed; town could be days without power

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: theday.com

Published October 30. 2012 10:00AM   Updated October 30. 2012 4:40PM

Stonington - For the past 37 years, Paul and Sarah Jannsens have owned a home and cottage on Wall Street in the borough that offers breathtaking views of Little Narragansett Bay.

Until Monday, they had never had a drop of water in their home despite being just a few feet from a stone sea wall.

That's when water poured over the sea wall and bent thick metal poles that held up a hedge in half. The raging water shattered two sheds in many pieces, leaving their possessions strewn along the street and yards. Others were carried out to sea. One section of shed was tossed 75 yards up the street.

The water tore through the front door of the cottage and lifted the front wall off its foundation before blasting through a rear window and tearing plaster off the walls. Paintings that hung 5 feet off the floor now hang at odd angles.

In their three-story home next door, a foot-and-a-half of water came through the front door and soaked the wide beam wood floors and cement and dirt floor below. Now the Janssens, who had been trying to sell the house, will have to gut and rebuild the first floors in both homes or sell it as is, Sarah Janssens said.

"I'm not sure what we're going to do," she said, adding they can live on the second and third floors for now.

This afternoon, residents coming by to offer condolences and assistance along with the many sightseers who flocked to the borough streamed down narrow Wall Street.

Through it all, Sarah Jannsens remained upbeat.

"You have to smile because you have to get up the next day," she said.

"I'll tell you this, this is at great community. People have been coming down all day wanting to help," she added.

The Janssens' home was just one of many borough properties damaged in the storm. The large tree that struck the Stonington Free Library has damaged the roof. In front of the library, the tree used for the annual Christmas Tree lighting has been cut in half.

One of the largest trees that came down is now blocking Gold Street and is resting on the house across the street. That location was used by a Weather Channel reporter for his report early this afternoon.

Massive downed trees block North Main Street between Route 1 and Palmer Street, a main access into the borough. Across Stonington Harbor on Wamphassuc Point, 63-foot sailboat has been tossed on the rocks.

While Skipper's Dock restaurant surprisingly survived with no damage despite being surrounded by water at one point, its dock where diners tie up their dinghies in the summer was destroyed.

"We had plans to redo the dock anyway, so there's no heartache in having to replace it," said property owner Bill Griffin.

At the intersection of Diving and Hancox streets this afternoon, crews were removing the remnants of a large dock that was thrown into the street and splintered into many pieces.

But not everyone had bad news. As he watched a piece of heavy equipment pick up the pieces of the dock, Diving Street resident Ben Davol said that when he arrived home at 10 p.m. Sunday night, he thought his house "was "toast" after water was reaching the first floor.

"But it was dry as a bone," he said, praising the borough highway crew for clearing the street of debris earlier in the day that he said would have made flooding worse.

In Stonington, 95 percent of Connecticut Light & Power customers were without power as of 3:30 p.m. First Selectman Ed Haberek said it will be days before power is restored for many residents.

During an 8 a.m. planning meeting at the emergency operations center, town officials said many roads in town were still blocked by downed tree and power lines. Highway department crews were out last night and this morning continuing to clear roads. Downed trees entangled in power lines cannot be removed until CL&P inspects them and cuts power.

The town's CL&P liaison is now at the emergency operations center helping to coordinate that work which has to be done before any power can restored.

"One of the biggest problems we have now are wires down and people driving around," said Public Works Director Joe Bragaw as he stood near a map peppered with more than 60 red and green push pins showing areas where trees and wires are blocking roads.

"Many of our roads are still impassable. We're telling people to hang tight. We need today's daylight to do this work," Haberek said.

Meanwhile a police officer has been stationed at the entrance to the viaduct in to the borough to stop sightseers from entering. With many downed wires and trees, only residents are being allowed back in.

The borough has been one of the hardest hit areas in town. The American Velvet Mill has lost part of its roof and there has been significant flooding. Areas of downtown Mystic are still flooded but coincidentally, a few small sections of Mystic have power. Haberek said officials have still not been able to assess damage on Masons Island which was cut off during the storm.

Utility poles are still down in front of the Pawcatuck firehouse on Route 2 and much of River Road in Pawcatuck is impassable.

"We didn't lose anyone or have any situations where people got hurt but we have a lot of destruction to work on in the coming days," Haberek said.

The shelter at the high school hosted 108 people Monday night including 20 employees and their families from the Quality Inn where a large section of roof was torn of.

Haberek said that if there are less than 10 people who want to stay tonight they will likely be sent to the Groton shelter. The landfill is only open today for town crews and contractors.

Because the town's Internet, cable and phone has been cut from Town Hall, residents with problems should call 860-599-4411 and press "1" or "0."

Haberek asked resident to wait at least a day to begin making inquires about disaster assistance so emergency officials can concentrate on clearing roads and restoring power.

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