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Westport slowly recovers from Sandy, faces long-term repairs

Updated 10:57 am, Thursday, November 1, 2012

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  • Susan Lamy surveys the massive root system of one of the trees uprooted in her Sturges Common yard by Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Paul Schott
    Susan Lamy surveys the massive root system of one of the trees uprooted in her Sturges Common yard by Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Paul Schott

 

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STORM RECOVERY CHECK LIST Westport public schools closed through Friday. Town Hall offices open as of Thursday Public charging of elecronic devices at Westport Public Library, Town Hall lobby and auditorium, and Westport Center for Senior Activities Westport Transit District shuttle buses will not run until Metro-North Railroad service is restored to local stations Emergency shelter at Long Lots School closed as of Thursday Connecticut Light & Power: 1-800-286-2000
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In a single night, Susan Lamy's backyard was transformed from a lush forest into an arboreal graveyard. While Hurricane Sandy ravaged Westport and the Tri-State area Monday night and early Tuesday, Lamy watched as the superstorm toppled massive oak trees like dominos.

"This is biblical -- it's almost like we had a private tornado," she said Wednesday afternoon inspecting the damage on her one-acre property on Sturges Commons. "Every few minutes, the wind would rise, and two minutes later, I'd hear a terrible thump and the earth would move."

Lamy and her husband, Jean-Pierre, emerged unscathed. And their 72-year-old stone house suffered only a small hole in its roof. But the massive wooden detritus that still carpets her yard and the ominous tangle of downed wires and utility pole shards in her street attest to the daunting recovery Westport faces after enduring perhaps the most fearsome storm to ever strike the town.

"We need FEMA, we need an army to clean this," Lamy said of the Federal Emergency Managment Agency, pointing to the corpse of a 100-foot-plus oak sprawling from her yard into the street.

The downed tree was more than 200 years old, according to Lamy. Its uprooted base towered over Lamy, who reached on her tiptoes to grab one of the exposed roots. More than a dozen mature trees lay strewn across Lamy's property. During Tropical Storm Irene last year, she did not lose any trees.

The tangle of shattered tree limbs cut off vehicle access to Lamy's home and the other residents who live on the upper end of Sturges Commons, a looped side street of Sturges Highway near Westport's border with Fairfield.

Since she lost power Monday, Lamy has made several calls to Connecticut Light & Power, but the utility had not yet dispatched personnel to clear the downed lines, she said. On Tuesday, the town sent a crew to Sturges Commons, but the team decided it could not remove the decapitated trees from the street until CL&P clears the wires, according to Lamy.

The plight of Lamy illustrated the damage and disruption pervasive throughout Westport two days after Sandy's landfall.

By 7 a.m. Thursday, about 77 percent of Westport's 12,351 CL&P customers -- or 9,557 -- were still without power, according to CL&P. Among the 147 municipalities in the state served by CL&P, Westport's outage rate at that time ranked as the fifth-highest. Weston had 83 percent blacked out, while Wilton was 79 percent in the dark.

Westport emergency management officials have warned repeatedly this week that power restoration for many residents may take more than a week.

While she waits for town and CL&P crews to clear Sturges Commons and restore power, Lamy intends to stay in the home where she has lived for 42 years. She and her husband have food, water and a generator. For now, they can leave only by charting a course on foot through the newly contorted landscape in her backyard.

"I'm feeling so overwhelmed," Lamy added. "I'm still in shock. It feels like this is happening to someone else."

Officially frustrated

"This has been a frustrating day," First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said in a CodeRed message Wednesday night. Opening of blocked roads and restoration of power has been slow. But there was some good news late today -- about 900 homes got their power back at about 7 p.m., bringing our outage total to about 80 percent from 86 percent.

"CL&P says 11 line and two tree crews were working in Westport today and more are expected on Thursday. I have told CL&P these numbers are insufficient. Often it takes two or three crews to clear one location, which means progress is unacceptably slow."

A close call

Felled trees and wires have severed access on dozens of roads and pummeled many homes throughout Westport.

On Rayfield Road, a mature oak collapsed Monday night onto the roof of Lillian and Fred Stone's split-level home. Somehow, the tree did not crash through the roof. The Stones, who were in the house when the tree was uprooted by Sandy's fury, were unharmed. The upended oak's impact did not even break any of the liquor bottles on the shelves of the Stones' dining room window.

The toppled tree still lolls on the Stones' roof. Aside from some dislodged chimney bricks and a damaged gutter, the shingle-and-asphalt roof appears to have resolutely withstood the force of the fallen oak.

"I feel terrible for my parents," said Lillian and Fred Stone's daughter, Easton Road resident Marian Stone, during an inspection Wednesday afternoon of the home where she grew up. "Obviously, they're going to need a lot of work done here. Thank God they're safe. It's a miracle that no one got hurt."

Lillian and Fred Stone are now staying with another daughter, who lives in Stratford. After an insurance adjuster assesses the damage and landscapers remove the tree, the senior Stones plan to return to the home where they have lived for almost 50 years, Marian Stone added.

Waterfront cleanup

Along Westport's shoreline, many residents are also grappling with arduous post-storm cleaning up and repairs.

The low-lying Saugatuck Shores section, in the southwest corner of town, flooded extensively during Sandy's storm surge that peaked at approximately 12 feet. By Wednesday, dozens of damage-remediation companies' employees scurried inside and around homes ravaged by floods and fallen trees. Residents and their relatives also mobilized quickly to mop up the salt-stench mess from the overflowing Long Island Sound.

"I built shelves in there to keep everything off the ground," said Eric Barnes, as he assessed the impact of the roughly three feet of inundation on the ground floor of his mother's split-level home on Pebble Beach Lane. "Water came up above the first shelf. It soaked everything on that lower shelf."

The flooding in his mother's house from Sandy reached nearly three times as high as the water during Tropical Storm Irene, Barnes added.

Other Saugatuck Shores residents were more fortunate. The backyard of Alberta Cifolelli's Plover Lane home was still waterlogged Wednesday morning, but her house escaped inundation. Like Barnes, she rated the flooding this week as much more substantial than the overflow during Irene.

"The clean-up is the worst part," she said. "But the water will go away. We'll clean it up."

Water-level benchmarks along Saugatuck Shores thoroughfares allude to the constant threat of swelling waters. But Cifolelli and her husband, Charles Lamb, 40-year residents of the waterfront neighborhood, expressed no ambivalence about living in an exposed locale.

"We're going to stay," Cifolelli added. "All the beautiful days make it worthwhile."

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott