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Old Lyme - Ever since Hurricane Sandy barged into town, flooding and damaging hundreds of houses, frustrated residents have been coming to town officials searching for answers.
Thursday evening residents met with federal officials to try to find solutions as they navigate the processes of rebuilding homes and applying for government assistance after Hurricane Sandy.
The storm completely destroyed four houses in Old Lyme. More than 250 others were so badly damaged that town officials said it was unsafe to restore electricity to them.
Over a month later, approximately 60 homes still have no electricity because electricians have not cleared them as safe, according to Building Official Ron Rose. The town has notified residents about the need for repairs, and many are waiting to hear back from the Federal Emergency Management Agency about assistance.
Representatives from FEMA's individual assistance program, the Small Business Administration, the National Flood Insurance Program and the Hazard Mitigation Programs, as well as the town's zoning official, spoke at the town-sponsored "Evening with FEMA" Thursday.
"Post-storm, my office has been inundated," said Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Director David Roberge, referring to the large number of residents seeking assistance.
Roberge explained that the town prevented electricity from being restored to more than 250 houses for safety reasons. The town had worked with CL&P to pull out meters until an electrician ensured the houses were safe. Those houses had sustained water and structural damage, he said. The town could not run the risk of a fire in one house, which could easily spread to others because of the houses' close proximity to each other, according to Roberge.
Residents raised concerns about rebuilding and the process they would have to follow to make structural changes such as raising houses up on stilts.
Zoning Enforcement Officer Ann Brown said residents would need to follow the town's regular zoning and building permitting process as they rebuild. She said the process could take two to three months.
One resident questioned this, noting that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had waived permit requirements during the post-storm recovery process.
First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said she believes the waiving of permits referred to projects with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. She stressed the need to follow the town's zoning and building procedures to ensure the structures built in the post-storm period continue to be built safely. "We can't have chaos, because we had chaos," she said.
In an interview Friday, Reemsnyder said she is discussing opportunities to streamline the process with town departments, but added that state statutes mandate some of the permitting steps.
"We cannot waive the process because it's meant to keep people and properties safe," she said, adding that there are local agencies that may be able to help residents.
Reemsnyder said during Thursday's meeting that the town would try to help residents "if you come to us and let us know what you're up against."
Resident Marla Richardson said at the meeting that she is frustrated because she is not receiving adequate help. Richardson is a single mother with four children who is now homeless. The storm wrecked her White Sands Beach house, causing roof damage and basement flooding. She is currently renting a house in Sound View.
While FEMA representatives have been helpful, Richardson said, she hasn't heard a decision on her case. "I never reach the person who actually makes the decision," she said in an earlier interview.
At Thursday's meeting she met with a FEMA representative who told her he would look into her case.
"That would be wonderful," she said.
In Old Lyme, 136 people have registered with FEMA, according to agency representative George Betz.
The town has scheduled an internal meeting for January to discuss storm response. The town has also arranged for residents to be able to deposit hazardous storm waste at the Public Works Garage on Machnik Drive on Dec. 8.
New hours for the FEMA-State Disaster Recovery Centers, including those in Groton and Old Saybrook, were announced Friday.
The centers will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Registrations for distaster assistance will be taken online any time at: www.DisasterAssistance.gov or with a smartphone or other web-enabled device at: m.fema.gov. To register by phone, call (800) 621-3362.
The deadline to register is Dec. 31.
Homeowners or renters who suffered damages from Hurricane Sandy can visit any of the seven Connecticut centers, located in Bridgeport, Greenwich, Fairfield, Milford and Norwalk as well as Groton and Old Saybrook. The New Haven center is closing today.
The Groton center is located at the Senior Center, and the Old Saybrook center is at the Department of Police Services, 6 Custom Drive.