Out of the Woods / A heartfelt thanks for the giving
Because of the positive way Westporters and town officials reacted to Hurricane Sandy, I was more aware on Thanksgiving just how generous and compassionate our community is.
I am grateful to the friends and neighbors in Westport and to relatives and acquaintances from all over the country who contacted us in one way or another to see how we were during the worst of the storm. We lost power for four days -- a mild setback compared to what other people experienced here and especially elsewhere along the East Coast.
I am sure I speak for thousands of other families here who experienced a similar epiphany as a result of the storm.
I asked First Selectman Gordon Joseloff to share his view of how the town agencies and townspeople prepared for and responded to the storm. Here s what he told me:
"Westport knew the `Big One' was coming -- we just didn't know whether it would be an ice storm, a hurricane, or a nasty nor'easter. In this case, we had six days of advance warning that there was a good chance we would be in the target area and immediately revved up our preparations. Last year's Irene and the Halloween storm helped us further refine our preparations.
"I warned residents in statements Thursday and Friday, including a CodeRed message Friday, to be prepared for the worst. On Saturday, I declared a local civil preparedness emergency and in another CodeRed message urged shoreline residents to evacuate before nightfall Sunday. I warned of prolonged outages and to count on a week or more without power.
"In short, we were as ready as we could been. For the most part, most people in shoreline areas heeded our warnings. A few stuck it out, and fortunately we were not called upon to do mid-storm rescues. I had warned residents we would not risk the lives of first-responders to rescue them if they did not evacuate.
"We used all the resources at our disposal to communicate with our residents -- telephone alerts, town website, local media, social media, and of course Fire Inspector Nate Gibbons and his around-the-clock announcements on WWPT-FM, the Staples radio station.
"Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director, Andy Kingsbury, ordered power shut to Main Street early Monday evening in order to prevent the outbreak of fires. Firefighters had gone door to door to merchants to urged them to prepare for the worst.
"We had good communication with CL&P during the storm, but the extent of the storm clearly overwhelmed their resources at hand. Their president and COO admitted as much to me when he visited the Emergency Operations Center early in the storm.
"But thanks to our excellent first responders, the Public Works Department, the Human Services Department, and scores of volunteers, we managed to come through it without loss or life or serious injuries. Easton, unfortunately, had a firefighter killed during the storm.
"We learned lessons from this one as we have in the past. Once again, I urge Westporters to install a generator if they can afford to do so. We have learned repeatedly that CL&P is unable to get power back in major incidents such as these for a week or more.
"I am grateful for the help of so many in keeping Westporters safe and informed during the storm. All I can say is that when the next one comes -- and there will be a next one, let's hope it won't be soon -- we will be even better prepared."
There is no question about it. Hurricanes, snowstorms, flash floods and every other kind of natural disaster that we cannot control rekindles those few times when we really can regain our perspective on what is important in our lives and what is not.
This year's Thanksgiving gave us all time to reflect on just how flexible we can be in an emergency. I am profoundly thankful to our town officials, to the people who reached out to me and my family in this time of dire emergency. I am grateful thst I had the opportunity to reach out to others.
I can honestly say that in the 44 years I have been a resident of our town, that of all the frightening traumas we have undergone as a town, this evoked more of a feeling of "we are all in this together" than any previous natural distaster that has touched the precious 22.5 square miles that we all affectionately call home.
This hurricane, moreover, served as an affirmation that all of us who call ourselves Westporters are fortunate, indeed, to live in a very special place.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer. His "Out of the Woods" usually appears every other Wednesday. It appears on Friday this week before the Thanksgiving holiday.