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Westport picking up the pieces from Hurricane Sandy

Updated 8:47 pm, Tuesday, October 30, 2012

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  • Large sections of the sand barrier built over the weekend at Compo Beach to block Hurricane Sandy flood waters were washed away by the storm overnight Monday. Photo: Paul Schott
    Large sections of the sand barrier built over the weekend at Compo Beach to block Hurricane Sandy flood waters were washed away by the storm overnight Monday. Photo: Paul Schott

 

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MOVING FORWARD FROM SANDY Westport public schools closed through Wednesday. Town officials and the Westport Public Library were closed at least through Tuesday; possibly opening Wednesday. The emergency shelter at Long Lots School will remain open indefinitely. Center for Senior Activities will be closed through Wednesday. Saturday yard waste hours extended, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Regular hours Saturday at transfer station 7 a..m. to noon. Residential dump fees at transfer station and yard waste facility waived through Nov. 10.
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After enduring overnight one of the most potent storms to ever strike the state, Westporters awoke Tuesday morning to find their town battered, but still standing, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The impact of the sweeping storm, which caused havoc throughout the Northeast, was evident arround town:

As of 9 a.m. Tuesday, about 85 percent of the town was without electric service.

The town's schools were closed at least through Wednesday.

Town offices and the Westport Public Library -- a popular spot to recharge phones and laptops -- were closed at least through Tuesday; possibly opening Wednesday.

The emergency shelter at Long Lots School will remain open indefinitely.

Most buildings on main roads appeared to have been spared exterior damage.

By mid-morning Tuesday, flood waters -- which had raged over the Saugatuck River's banks -- had receded from the downtown area, with Parker- Harding Plaza and Main Street both navigable by car and foot.

During the night, that area had been hit by about 3 feet of water. All other low-lying areas had also flooded during the Monday-Tuesday overnight period, town emergency officials reported.

Felled trees and branches clogged many of the town's thoroughfares, creating treacherous driving conditions. On Saugatuck Avenue, a toppled pine tree hanged over the road, propped up only by sagging power lines -- a scene repeated around town.

Westport appeared to have endured Sandy's blows, without suffering any physical casualties. Following the passing of full-Moon-fueled high tide at midnight Tuesday, no major injuries were reported, Deputy Fire Chief Bob Kepchar told the Westport News early Tuesday.

During the night, first responders battled rising waters, high winds, and downed trees and wires. They also responded to calls of trees crashing through several homes' roofs. The inhabitants of those houses evacuated before the trees breached the roofs, Kepchar said.

While Westport was apparently spared the massive damage inflicted on other shoreline communities in Connecticut, the town was still in a high-alert state Tuesday.

The National Guard sent two National Guard high-water rescue vehicles and six soldiers to help the town in its storm recovery, town emergency management officials said. The state, meanwhile, sent a task force of 16 firefighters and five vehicles to assist the town.

Despite the ubiquitous signs of Sandy's wrath, signs of normalcy were already emerging by mid-morning Tuesday. A number of residents toured the downtown area to observe its post-storm state.

"It looks just like it did after Irene," said Evergreen Avenue resident Joelle Malec, referring to the Tropical Storm that wracked the state in August of last year.

Malec reported that her home on the outskirts of the downtown survived the storm without sustaining any major damage. And, unlike most town residents, she lost power only for an hour Monday night.

"We feel very lucky," she said.

Fellow Evergreen Avenue resident Mark Ritter, also on a walkabout in the town center, said he his home also escaped the brunt of the storm's impact.

"We escaped unscathed," he said.

At the Black Duck Cafe in the Saugatuck section of town, Sandy left a more visible mark. Water stains reaching more than three feet high could be seen on the venerable emporium's front deck.

"I was wading around in water up to chest last night," said the Black Duck's owner Peter Aitkin, as he surveyed the restaurant's now-dry parking lot. "I think this is the highest tide I've seen in the 35 years that I've been here. We got about three to four inches in the building."

Fortuitously for the renowned institution, the tide at 10 p.m. Monday did not rise any higher despite the posted high-water mark two hours later.

"I've never seen that happen," Aitkin added. "But if it needed to happen, it needed to happen last night, otherwise the damage could have been catastrophic."

Despite the inundation, the Black Duck will likely not be decommissioned for long. Aitkin added that he hoped to re-open the restaurant later Tuesday.

The gathering storm

By Sunday, predictions of devastation that Hurricane Sandy was expected to wreak on the region had turned dire, with officials telling residents to be prepared for for an "unprecedented" storm.

Federal officials on Sunday warned the town to expect a 13-foot storm surge -- 3 or 4 feet higher than the inundation from Tropical Storm Irene last year.

"This is an unprecedented storm," First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said in a statement. "This will be a storm of long duration, high winds and record-setting flooding. Take Storm Irene from last year and double it," he said.

Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury, the town's emergency operations director, warned, "The preparation window is closing rapidly. People need to use the remaining time to move their cars, secure their properties, and lay in an adequate supply of food and water -- at least three days' worth. And fair warning here, we expect the entire town to lose power, with restoration maybe taking a week or more."

All town beaches and marinas were shut down at sunset Sunday.

Access to Compo Beach area to be restricted effective 8 a.m. Monday, town officials announced.

Police closed access to the waterfront neighborhoods at Old Mill, Compo Beach and Saugatuck Shores starting at 8 a.m. Monday.

Meanwhile, the town's Department of Public Works center was stretched trying to meet the demand for sand bag materials for residents' storm preparations over the last several days.

The town's storm shelter at Long Lots School opened at 3 p.m. Sunday.

First signs of trouble

Warnings as early as late last week about Sandy triggered the town's emergency operations planning.

A state of emergency was declared in Westport on Saturday evening to give officials extra authority as the hurricane closed in.

"Under the authority granted by this decree," Joseloff said to residents via a CodeRed message, "I am tonight strongly recommending shoreline Westport residents in flood-prone areas evacuate their homes on Sunday before nightfall."

At Compo Beach, meanwhile, bulldozers manned by a crew from the Westport-based general contracting firm Kowalsky Bros. spent Saturday afternoon piling sand into 10-foot mounds.

By Sunday, that bulwark extended more than a half-mile from the beach's cannons to the intersection of Soundview Drive and Compo Beach and Hillspoint Road.

"It's not going to prevent all the water from going through, but the brunt of the impact is going to be on this wall," said Deputy Police Chief Foti Koskinas. "The pavilion, Joey's [by the Shore restaurant], the playground, the lifeguard shack -- all of that is going to be protected."

In the low-lying Saugatuck Shores -- a section of town that suffered major flooding last year during Tropical Storm Irene -- many residents were busy Saturday preparing their homes for the storm.

At Rabia de Lande Long's Harbor Road house workers boarded up the front and side windows and bulwarked the driveway with a row of sandbags

"It may be a little extreme, but better safe than sorry," de Lande Long said.

She added that she plans to evacuate before the full force of the hurricane strikes.

Other Saugatuck Shores residents were undecided about whether they would leave their homes.

It'll depend on how things develop," said Lincoln Weekes, who lives on Canal Road. "That will be a last-minute decision. Down here you always have to be worried. We're not overly concerned, but you always have to be prepared, given where you are."

Down the road, a group of Saugatuck Island residents strolled together to check in on neighbors' pre-storm preparations. Each person in that group of five announced his or her intention to ride out the storm at home.

"We had no idea last year what to expect last year because it was just out of the blue," said Tony Sousa, one of the Saugatuck Island residents. "This year, I feel more prepared."

Those pre-emptive actions by Sousa and his neighbors included moving belongings from the ground floor upstairs, parking their cars at the Saugatuck Metro-North Railroad Station's lot and stocking up on bottled water, wood and other essential items.

"And we stocked up on beer, so we're pretty set there," Sousa added. "I'm kind of hoping that it veers off and that we just end up with a lot of wind and rain. I'm cautiously optimistic."

MOVING FORWARD FROM SANDY

Westport public schools closed through Wednesday.

Town officials and the Westport Public Library were closed at least through Tuesday; possibly opening Wednesday.

The emergency shelter at Long Lots School will remain open indefinitely.

Center for Senior Activities will be closed through Wednesday.

Saturday yard waste hours extended, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Regular hours Saturday at transfer station 7 a..m. to noon. Residential dump fees at transfer station and yard waste facility waived through Nov. 10.