By Meg Barone
Another "storm" hit the region Saturday, as long lines of Sandy-socked property owners swamped municipal transfer stations and yard-waste centers to get rid of mountains of debris left in storm's wake.
People in Westport and elsewhere in southwestern Connecticut toiled all weekend cleaning up storm damage and water-logged personal items from their homes, basements and garages. They piled them up curbside for bulk trash pickup or transported the debris to municipal trash and recycling facilities, often making the trek several times.
"This is the fifth load and I'm not anywhere near finished," Norman Hildes-Heim of Fairfield said Saturday, as he carted tree limbs from the back of his pickup truck.
The trash and yard waste facilities in both Westport and Fairfield were open for extended hours.
Much of what people threw out Saturday was spoiled food from refrigerators that went too long without power. Many people disposed of salt water-soaked books and magazines, rugs, clothing, pots, pans, sections of fences damaged by fallen trees, and appliances including air-conditioners and refrigerators that had been marinated in a mix of salt water and in some cases sewage.
One man in Westport was dumping boxes of comic books for a neighbor whose basement had flooded.
Alan Pulkin, who lives off Cross Highway between Roseville Road and North Avenue, said he was at the recycling center to toss "everything in the refrigerator and freezer, thousands of dollars of stuff gone. But I'm alive." Pulkin said he had no power since Monday. "We've been freezing in the evening, sitting by the fireplace. No sign of CL&P," he said.
Tom Leyden said Sandy marked the first time in his 42 years in Westport that water entered his house on Bradley Street. "Irene never came into the house. The December 1992 storm never came into the house. Sandy? Hello. You live by the beach, you die by the beach," said Leyden, who estimated that his family will have to relocate for about three months as renovations are made to their home.
Water only licked the front steps of Stacey and David Schieffelin's Compo Beach area home, but they were at the recycling center mid-morning Saturday hauling from their property other people's debris.
"All this stuff floated up on our backyard," Stacey Schieffelin said. Among the items they did not bring to the recycling center were professional-grade bicycles and related equipment that came to a rest in their yard. They left it on their front lawn with a sign "floated and free," but hoped it would be reclaimed by its rightful owner.
While many of the things that were thrown out Saturday seemed like odds and ends and "junk" as some people put it, others said the more emotional purging of ruined personal mementoes and family photos was yet to come.
One man, who lives in the Saugatuck Shores area, said he has been a Westport resident since 1978 and, "This is the worst I've seen it." On Saturday he dumped several garbage barrels of wet magazines and other paper items during the first of what he said would be several trips to the recycling facility that day. The later trips would dispose of family photos, appliances and other personal items. He also planned to get a large trash bin to handle the amount of stuff he will have to toss, and soon. "The paper stuff is smelling up the house," he said.
Several small business owners were there tossing out inventory. One couple threw out their ballet posters and postcards.
Not everyone was at the Westport recycling center to dump personal belongings or storm debris. Jan Keenan returned 16 sandbags to the center Saturday. "I never needed them. We lucked out. A lot of people didn't. We've had plenty of hurricanes but I've never seen anything like this," he said.
Although Keenan lives on Myrtle Avenue in downtown Westport, not far from the Saugatuck River, his property was not affected by flood waters. Keenan did as he was asked, using a box cutter to open the bags and pour the sand from each of them. Others just left the bags in a designated area without spilling the contents.
One woman, who did not give her name, emptied a large plastic container of clothing into the large Salvation Army bin. "Maybe people affected by the storm can use them," she said.
Bud Valiante, weigh master of the Westport Recycling Center, said there was a steady stream of vehicles Saturday, but surprisingly not as much as expected. The difference from a more typical Saturday was the kind of things that people were discarding, he said. What was different than the typical Saturday was the amount of trees and branches that were brought there from the town facility at 180 Bayberry Lane to be weighed before being hauled away. Valiante said five tractor trailer loads of brush came to his site to be weighed by 11 a.m.
"It could be worse," said Jim Drogan, a 40-year resident of Westport, putting things in perspective. "We could live in Staten Island or New Jersey or the south end of Long Island. We ought to think of those poor people that don't have anything left," he said, at the recycling center.
Matthew Morse, a resident of South Pine Creek Road in Fairfield, said he was definitely one of the lucky ones. "We didn't have any flooding. Just seeing all the stuff outside people's houses was horrible, just in awe. I was in shock. I didn't know how bad it was," said Morse, who was dropping off storm-damaged branches at Green Cycle, the town's yard-waste recycling contractor on One Rod Highway, but also had the usual load of leaves from his yard to discard.
A steady stream of vehicles drove to the Green Cycle center Saturday and local residents and private contractors emptied their storm-related contents all day as the wood chippers hummed with activity the entire time.
"I've watched a lot of storms and this was by far the worst," said Hildes-Heim, a resident of Fairfield since 1944, who made multiple trips to Green Cycle. "This is the fifth load and I'm not anywhere near finished," he said.
At Fairfield's transfer center down the street, weigh master Patrick Lucas said the traffic volume was about the same as a normal Saturday, but he surmised that because of the level of devastation in Fairfield dumping "isn't their highest priority."
The lines were longer after Hurricane Irene in August 2011, but with Hurricane Sandy, "There's more devastation and they have more important things to do," said Lisa Gnandt, site manager for Green Cycle, which did not escape unscathed. The company's trailer lost its roof.