Published October 31. 2012 4:00AM Updated November 01. 2012 12:31AM
Sandy destroys homes, other beach structures, rips roof off Velvet Mill, fells trees, leaves swath of damage in wake
Southeastern Connecticut spent Tuesday picking up the pieces Sandy left behind.
From Old Saybrook to Stonington, highway crews worked to clear downed trees and power lines from roads altered by displaced sand and floodwaters that mostly had receded by mid-afternoon.
Utility workers tackled outages that would leave tens of thousands still in the dark at day's end.
Along the shoreline, at least, the storm lived up to its billing, causing school districts to cancel a third day of classes today.
Connecticut Light & Power is reporting this morning that 342,274 customers still have no electricity. CL&P's website indicates that 93 percent to 99 percent of its customers in Stonington, Lyme, East Lyme, Salem and Old Lyme were still without power, while more than 50 percent of residents in Ledyard, Preston and Waterford were also in the dark.
Hawk's Nest Beach in Old Lyme experienced some of the heaviest devastation in the region. Many of the summer cottages along the shore had porches torn off, foundations undermined or entire fronts ripped away.
"We have no more house," said Wendy Mosely of East Lyme, whose aunt, Denise Tracy of Lisbon, owns the cottage, which had its bathroom, porch and first floor swallowed by heavy waves. A television set, chairs and other furniture were strewn in the backyard. "I came out here at 6:30 this morning to check and I was crying. It was horrible."
Next door, a woman wept outside her cottage, chewed open by the storm surge. The streets of the beach community were covered by about 2 feet of sand, and homeowners were using snow shovels and garden spades to dig sand out of backyards and garages.
"It's a lot worse this time (than Tropical Storm Irene)," said Laura Trinks of Harwinton, who owns two houses at Hawk's Nest with her husband, Paul, as a small bulldozer pushed the heavy, wet sand, trying to open the road so utility trucks could get in to restore power. "Our house on the water was moved (and) had some structural damage. We can't open the front door, so we'll actually have to break into our own house."
Christopher Garvin and his family own about 50 rental cottages at Hawk's Nest. Monday afternoon, he was pushing the misplaced sand into piles to be returned to the beach.
"You've only got 6 million more yards to go," joked a passerby, as Garvin paused for a break.
Garvin said he lives at Hawk's Nest year round and stayed through the brunt of the storm Monday into Tuesday.
"I came down during the night and I saw the chimney come down on Number 34, and then the house went into the water while I was watching," he said. "The water was waist deep on the road."
Damage at other beach neighborhoods in Old Lyme, including Sound View and Miami Beach, appeared much less than at Hawk's Nest. The parking lot of the town-owned White Sand Beach was buried in sand and the access road was flooded, but most of the homes seemed relatively unscathed.
In Old Saybrook, Saybrook Point was closed to traffic early Monday after storm surge swelled over the sea wall and onto the roadway, flooding the Dock & Dine restaurant.
Porches, decks, walkway gone
At Crescent Beach in East Lyme, Dolores Roseberry's house along the water once had a front porch with sliding doors. But the storm destroyed the porch and the front of her house, and now sand, shells and shards of glass lay scattered on the floor.
Roseberry had traveled from East Hartford this weekend to board up the house, which she owns with her sister, to prevent damage.
"We did all we could, but it wasn't enough, I guess," she said.
The house, built in the 1800s, was rebuilt after the Hurricane of 1938 pushed it across the street, she said. She had just closed the house for the season and practically had just finished cleaning up the damage from Tropical Storm Irene.
In Niantic's Oak Grove Beach, Shore Road was flooded, sand piled up near the tops of mailboxes in areas, and the waterfront sides of several houses were destroyed.
Gene Falcone of Old Lyme helped out at his father's Oak Grove house, which survived the 1938 Hurricane. Water had to be pumped out of the flooded basement Tuesday morning, he said. The front deck lay destroyed, the side deck slanting, the concrete walkway torn up and the American flag swept away.
"They take the brunt of it here," Falcone said about the beach area hit by northeasterly winds. "The storm surge was just historic."
The storm also smashed parts of the historic Crescent Beach walkway.
'The pavilion is gone'
In New London, a 1-mile stretch of Pequot Avenue was covered with the remains of clubhouses that until Monday night had stood on the private beaches at the mouth of the Thames River.
"We were here for Hurricane Gloria, and I don't remember all of this debris washing up on Pequot Avenue," said Kevin O'Reilly, who lives on Parkway South and weathered the storm at his brother's house in Waterford.
When a neighbor pointed out that the Osprey Beach clubhouse was gone, O'Reilly was aghast.
"Oh my God," he said. "I didn't know that it was gone. The pavilion is gone."
City Councilor Adam Sprecace said the section from Neptune Court to Glenwood Avenue appeared to have sustained the worst damage in the city.
"Pequot Beach has lost about 2 feet of sand," he said, as a bulldozer loaded with pieces of the former Osprey Beach clubhouse passed by on Pequot Avenue. "There are rocks exposed there that you never see."
'Green monster' no more
In downtown Mystic, high winds knocked down the green wooden fence that spanned the space where the Central Hall Block once stood.
"It came down, but not in the way we wanted it to go," said Rod DesMarais, a partner in the group planning to rebuild at the long-vacant site. "The green monster was killed by Sandy."
DesMarais said he was in the downtown area during Monday night's high tide and watched as the Mystic River rose up to his knees on West Main Street.
"Considering what (Sandy) could have been, the damage could have been a lot worse," he said.
Mystic Seaport emerged from the storm with its historic ships and collections intact and negligible damage to its buildings and grounds. Closed Tuesday, the museum was expected to reopen as early as noon today.
At the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus in Groton, crews were assessing damage to a sea wall and cleaning up. Officials said classes would resume Thursday.
Days without power
Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek said it would be days before the more than 90 percent without electricity in his town were back online. At a late afternoon meeting with emergency officials, he complained that CL&P had deployed just one line crew and one tree crew in town all day.
"That's totally unacceptable," Haberek said. "I'm completely dissatisfied with the situation right now. I was the biggest supporter of CL&P the last time (during Tropical Storm Irene), and now I've got thrown under the bus."
Rich Rogozinski, the CL&P liaison assigned to the town's emergency operations center, agreed with Haberek.
"Based on what we know now, Stonington got hit harder than other towns in the state," he said, adding that he updated CL&P officials about the need in Stonington. He said he anticipates more crews today.
Robert Congdon, the first selectman in Preston, rated the new CL&P liaison system as "marginal" in the aftermath of the storm.
"I think communication has a lot to be desired," he said after a 4 p.m. conference call with state emergency officials. "We did not have crews working in town first thing this morning, as promised."
A police officer stationed at the viaduct entrance to Stonington borough kept would-be sightseers from entering one of Stonington's hardest-hit areas, where the American Velvet Mill lost part of its roof and flooding was widespread.
Elsewhere in town, utility poles were down in front of the Pawcatuck firehouse on Route 2, and much of River Road was 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.
Day Staff Writers Judy Benson, Claire Bessette, Kimberly Drelich, Izaskun E. Larrañeta, Greg Smith and Joe Wojtas contributed to this story.