During power outages, huddled masses welcomed throughout Westport
Published 1:03 am, Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Normally, there's a chair in the small nook where the graphic novels are displayed in the Westport Public Library. On Monday, that chair was gone and in its place was a table with five people crowded around.
They all had their reasons for being there.
"Obviously, because of the power," said Will Landowne, a fourth grader who was accompanied by his mother.
"My house is flooded," said Claire, an eighth grader working on some homework assignments.
"A tree fell on my house," said Claire's friend, Melony, who was also working on some assignments.
With the flooding, forests of fallen trees and no electricity in many homes, these three students and more than 2,000 others crammed into the library to enjoy the things that were once taken for granted: Internet, heat and electricity. At the peak of the storm, more than half of the town was without power.
On a normal day, there are about 1,600 visitors to the library. On Monday at about 2 p.m., library staff estimated that about there would be 2,400 visitors.
Throughout the library, huddled masses occupied space that is typically empty. Chairs were scattered everywhere, although some people simply sat on the floor with their backs against the wall. In the children's room, teens who had outgrown illustrated tales years ago had taken a seat at the tables. Throughout the library, people were charging their essential items, such as laptops, cell phones and, in at least one case, an electric razor.
Sitting next to the check-out desk, not far from the café, was Afshin Goodarzi. He had been there for about four hours. With the power out throughout town, he was hoping to get some work done, since he typically works from home. With all the people coming in and out, focusing was bit more difficult than usual, but still, he was content.
"I got electricity. I got a seat. I'm not moving," he said.
From his spot, he could see all the passers-by. For him, it was easy to tell who the regulars were and who was at the library for the first time.
"They all ask the same questions," he noted. "Do you have power? Do you have Internet? Can I stay here?"
"I didn't know what to do with myself," she said.
"I thought that was just so nice," said Holden. "There was absolutely no hospitality in Fairfield. Westport opened up and really cared. It was the kindness of strangers."
On Jesup Green, in front of the library, two trees were rocked to the ground by the wind, but the library itself was mostly unaffected, making it a prime destination for visitors.
"We've had a couple blips where we had to reboot the computers, but that was it," said Maxine Bleiweis, director of the library.
Downstairs, the winter book sale was open for business, and business was good.
"We made as much [Saturday] as we did at the entire sale last year," said Mimi Greenlee, chairperson of the book sale.
Early Saturday morning, when the sale first began, she counted 150 people waiting to track down bargains outside the door. The refugees came in later and kept on coming. She even saw one lady who brought a blow dryer to use in the bathroom.
"This is incredible. We really became a sanctuary," she said.
Staples students who were stuck without their amenities looked for ways to pass the time since school was cancelled and there was little to do at home.
"I'm pretending to do homework," admitted Hannah Bjornson, a junior who was sitting in a circle with four other classmates. She had a novel in her hands and had made some progress on it.
Kirk Massie welcomed the social interaction and of course, the electricity, after a rather dull weekend.
"I just watched movies on my laptop until [the batteries] went out and then I went to sleep," he said.
Francisco Delgado already had tentative plans to return to the library the next day.
"We're going to come back tomorrow, unless we get power back," he said.
Throughout the day, Bleiweis made the rounds around the library. One person she was talking to interpreted the scene.
"It looks a bit like JFK when all the flights have been delayed for hours, but with a warm and contented crowd," the library patron told her.