Irene's mess will take time to mop up

Manuel Parra Martinez, right, takes a photograph of the tree that fell on his home on Chapel Drive in New London on Sunday. The tree was uprooted by the wind of Tropical Storm Irene after the rain soaked and softened the ground.
Manuel Parra Martinez, right, takes a photograph of the tree that fell on his home on Chapel Drive in New London on Sunday. The tree was uprooted by the wind of Tropical Storm Irene after the rain soaked and softened the ground.

Irene may have passed but it's going to be a long and likely frustrating week for residents, business owners and municipal officials across the region.

Along with grappling with widespread power outages, much work lies ahead to clear roads of downed trees and poles. But it could be a frustrating task because in many cases highway crews won't be able to do anything until utility companies first remove downed power lines.

Fire departments will be busy pumping out flooded basements and school officials will have to wait until power is restored to see if schools can start on time. Many towns have already canceled teacher professional development days scheduled for today.

For homeowners without power or generators, they will have to wait to pump out their basements. As their freezers and refrigerators cool down, food will spoil. Ice may be hard to come by at local stores as people look to fill coolers.

Like many towns, Stonington officials met in their emergency operations center throughout the day on Sunday. On one large map, colored push pins showed the location of 30 downed trees and another 30 live power lines that blocked town roads.

First Selectman Ed Haberek said highway crews will drive every road in town to pinpoint damage and coordinate work with CL&P. Meanwhile stop signs will be erected at intersections with traffic signals that are not working.

Haberek said the full extent of flooding and wind damage will not be known until people who evacuated return to their homes in the coming days especially in waterfront areas such as Masons Island and Lord's Point.

"We won't know the scale of the damage until people get back to their homes," he said.

Like his colleagues in other communities Haberek said town officials and employees are determined "to help people get through this."

But municipal officials also were feeling a slight sense of relief after the storm did not turn out to be as bad as originally feared.

In Norwich, Mayor Peter Nystrom said that despite power outages that affected more than 11,000 Norwich Public Utilities customers, the city was "pretty lucky" to escape the serious flooding of the Yantic River and its volatile tributaries that is seen with many storms.

The river came within a few feet of the base of the Sherman Street bridge, called the Canada Bridge, but stayed within its banks in Norwichtown, where several businesses and homes were inundated in the spring 2010 flood. Nutmeg Companies, which suffered $3.5 million in damages in 2010 when the river crashed through a garage wall that had been a barrier. This time, the river didn't reach the concrete walls and sandbags erected by the construction company's crew in advance of the storm.

As in many communities Norwich has kept its shelter at the Rose City Senior Center open. On Sunday afternoon it was near its 50-person capacity. In Stonington, food from the high school cafeteria was served to residents at the shelter there Sunday night when supplies ran low.

For most of the day Sunday, emergency crews and public works personnel across the region worked feverishly to respond to phone calls reporting downed trees and power lines along with flooding. No serious injures were reported.

In Preston, First Selectman Robert Congdon had called for a ban on non-emergency traffic at 9:30 a.m. for the duration of the storm. Congdon said the town escaped any serious flooding, and he was not aware of any structural damage to houses and businesses.

While many towns implemented similar bans, that did not stop residents from venturing out during the late morning and early afternoon to see the waves, flooding and downed trees from themselves.

In Waterford, First Selectman Daniel Steward said the town was working to clear the roads, take down the fallen trees safely and repair downed wires.

"We are working with CL&P to try to get everything back in order," he said Sunday afternoon. "There was a lot of damage, primarily trees and debris. I know there was damage to homes but I don't know how much. I don't know the coastline damage yet. Water was up, the tide surge was high, and I'm sure we experienced a lot of damage to a lot of areas."

Waterford is one town which has already decided to push back the start of the school one day until Wednesday.

Old Lyme was particularly hard hit with power outages as about 92 percent of the town was without electricity Sunday afternoon, according to David Roberge, the town's emergency management director.

Despite dealing with wires down, trees on live wires and trees on a few houses, Roberge said the town "fared fairly well."

First Selectman Timothy Griswold said areas already prone to flooding, like the streets behind White Sand Beach and the lower part of Hartford Avenue in Sound View, were predictably under water. Ely Beach, near Griswold Point, saw about 2 feet of erosion, Griswold said.

"Wave action came back up the beach and just chewed away at this sandy bluff," he said. "It's been happening for years, but a storm like this really accentuates it."

Staff Writers Jenna Cho and Steve Chupaska contributed to this story.


During high tide on Sunday, dozens of people braced themselves against the wind on the beach at Giants Neck, which is adjacent to Rocky Neck State Park in Niantic. A half-dozen teenagers cannonballed and dived off the stone jetty into a whipped-up surf, while others posed for photos with the angry seas in the background.
During high tide on Sunday, dozens of people braced themselves against the wind on the beach at Giants Neck, which is adjacent to Rocky Neck State Park in Niantic. A half-dozen teenagers cannonballed and dived off the stone jetty into a whipped-up surf, while others posed for photos with the angry seas in the background.
A man paddles his kayak across the flooded section of Hartford Avenue in the Soundview section of Old Lyme after Tropical Storm Irene hit the area Sunday.
A man paddles his kayak across the flooded section of Hartford Avenue in the Soundview section of Old Lyme after Tropical Storm Irene hit the area Sunday.

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