Storm ravages Westport, recovery begins
Published 2:16 pm, Wednesday, March 17, 2010
With the deadly and devastating storm finally at an end, the recovery effort has begun and the damage is being assessed.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell declared a state of emergency in Fairfield County and a toll of the damage has yet to be determined, but Westport was particularly hard-hit. At least 27 homes were damaged by falling trees, one woman was killed, more than half of the town was without power and more than 50 roads were closed down, according to officials.
"Residents should start thinking about the amounts of damages that they individually have sustained to their homes and be ready to quantify ... that so we can hopefully qualify for [government assistance]," said First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who said the storm was one of the worst he's seen in years.
In order to qualify for federal disaster assistance, a minimum of $2.85 million in damage has to be recorded in Fairfield County. Joseloff believes it's likely this number will be exceeded, although he was uncertain at the time of how residents should report the damage to the town, which would later go to the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
According to Joseloff, updates will be forthcoming on the town Web site, www.westportct.gov.
On Saturday, at the height of the storm, the 9-1-1 calls were coming in so fast that the dispatch system at the fire department became overloaded.
That day, the worst of the storm led to the death of Jennifer Thibault of Long Valley, N.J., who died when a large tree fell on her vehicle while traveling northbound on Park Lane at approximately 7 p.m. The three passengers were treated at Norwalk Hospital.
As the extrication of the victim from her vehicle was winding down, trees continued to collapse in the area. One hit the Society to Aid the Retarded Group Home on Park Lane, causing severe damage to the building, which was empty at the time.
A tree crashed onto Truck 1, the fire department's 95-foot tower ladder truck that was due for a refurbishing later this year.
The vehicle was rendered unusable as a result of the damage sustained by the tree's impact, and nobody was injured by that tree. Damages were in excess of $200,000, and a truck was loaned by the Stamford Fire Department to replace it.
"It was an extremely close call for all of them," said Ackley. "That was very unsettling. It happened so fast."
Easton Road resident Jane Dally said that on Saturday, shortly after she and her family got home, "These white pines starting shooting around like torpedoes."
As a result of power outages and storm damage, Westport Public Schools, along with a few other districts in the county, were cancelled Monday and Tuesday.
At the peak of electricity outages, Connecticut Light & Power reported that more than of half Westport was without power. The number dwindled to 36.8 percent, or 4,508 customers by Wednesday. In a statement released by Joseloff, he was assured that 99 percent of the homes will have power by midnight today, with the remaining 1 percent continuing to wait.
"If you have the line down in front of your house, it could be [out] until the weekend," Joseloff said.
During the storm, gusts of wind came in at 65 mph and approximately 3 to 5 inches rain of rain fell to the ground, exacerbating the poor driving conditions and leading to flooding in parts of town.
With the Public Works Department working to clear the fallen trees blocking roads, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) had called in their tree crews from throughout the state to work on state roads Fairfield County.
By Monday, all the state roads that were closed in Westport -- about half a dozen of them -- were opened and accessible, with work continuing on the local roads.
"From our perspective, which is to keep the transportation infrastructure up and running, it was shocking just how much damage there was and how many closures there were," said Kevin Nursick, spokesperson for the DOT. That said, we had a pretty quick turnaround in Fairfield County."
While the weather storm is over and the sun is out, Ackley emphasized that plenty of work still needs to be done as the town transitions from a "response phase to a recovery phase." He's urging patience for people who have their cars trapped in their streets due to fallen trees and power lines.
"The problem with clearing the roads is that stuff is tangled up," Ackley said. "There are poles snapped. Some of these are extremely complicated and could take a long time. A lot of these are dangerous."
As of press time, the fire department was still responding to calls as the recovery efforts continued.
"We're running into issues where people who have been on generator power for some time, we're getting a lot of carbon monoxide alarms," he said. "We're still worried because candles are a concern. We only had a couple minor incidents with that but people need to be careful when using an open flame."
Gary Jeanfaivre, managing editor, contributed to this report.