Thousands Without Power – Hartford Courant.
Hurricane Irene is closing in on Connecticut with heavier bands of rain rolling in, as more than two dozen towns opened shelters and some issued mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying areas.
All air, train and bus service has been suspended, according to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and he said he probably would close the Wilbur Cross and Merritt parkways after midnight for fear of wind blowing trees into the roads.
Many businesses will be closed, and some churches have canceled services.
Five hundred Connecticut National Guard troops are in position at armories across the state and will be deployed Sunday morning, Malloy said.
Towns along the shoreline, where the storm was expected to be strongest when it hits Sunday, urged residents to bring three days worth of food, clothing and blankets with them to shelters. Other towns ordered the evacuation of trailer parks and properties prone to flooding from rivers and streams.
Around the state, highway information signs flashed “No Unnecessary Travel. For Your Safety.” Malloy said he might ban non-emergency driving on state highways, if necessary.
At a press briefing in Hartford Saturday night, Malloy said he will determine Sunday if non-essential state workers need to come in on Monday. “We will speak through the media to our state employees tomorrow concerning whether they should … report on Monday,” he said. “We’ll make that call tomorrow.”
He said that as of Saturday night, 28 municipalities had ordered evacuations and 17 had declared states of emergencies. He also said that all air, train and bus service had been suspended except two remaining flights into Bradley International Airport.
Malloy said he intends to address the state again Sunday morning at 7 a.m.
Amtrak also announced that is was suspending service through Sunday in New England, as well as in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states.
At 4:30 a.m. Sunday, the storm was to the east of Cape May, according to Fox CT meteorologist Dan Amarante. The storm is expected to reach Connecticut around 11 a.m., with rains tapering off by early to mid-afternoon.
“We may even see some sun before sunset,” Amarante said.
Hurricane Irene hit the North Carolina coast on Saturday morning, and torrential rain from the massive storm reached Connecticut soon after that. Damaging winds from Irene were expected to arrive in the state by about 10 a.m. Sunday, according to Fox CT meteorologist Geoff Fox. He said the storm’s center will hit the coast by about 2 p.m., with rain and wind subsiding by 4 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Fox said that Irene may bring less rain then expected, with downpours clearing out very quickly after the storm passes over the state. But by midnight, flood warnings were announced for New Haven, Middlesex and Fairfield counties.
The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for New Haven, New London and Fairfield counties, effective until 10 a.m. Sunday.
Officials urged residents in potential flood zones to quickly close up their houses and leave during daylight hours rather than wait to assess the impact of the storm. Residents who decided against evacuation were warned that they probably would be on their own.
As officials wrote on Westport’s Web page: “Based on past experience, there will be those who will refuse to evacuate and prefer to ‘ride out’ the storm. They will do so at their own peril. They should be aware that our emergency services will not respond to last minute evacuation requests as waters rise, risking the lives of first responders.”
Malloy urged residents in mandatory evacuation zones to comply with orders to leave their homes.
“We don’t want to have a loss of life and we don’t want to be putting our forces in harms way at the height of a storm trying to evacuate a person who simply and very easily could have absented themselves,” he said during a 4 p.m. briefing on the status of the state’s storm preparations.
“I understand it may be a burden to spend some number of hours in a shelter but it’s a lot easier burden than some of the others they might have to face,” he added,
Speaking from the state’s Emergency Operations Center at the state armory, Malloy said just about every community fronting western Long Island Sound has issued evacuation orders for at least some of their neighborhoods.
Malloy also had a word of caution for residents who may be watching storm coverage from North Carolina and other points to the south on television.
“I want to remind people that much of what you’ve watched on TV so far occurred in states that were experiencing low tide,” he said. “We expect to experience all of the brunt of this storm at high tide and that could be a serious difference. So please do not draw conclusions by what you’re watching.”
In addition to the National Guard, about 1,100 insurance adjusters also are on hand, ready to make assessments about damages, Malloy said. And mobile cell towers have been moved into the state for recovery efforts.
Malloy urged residents to limit their cellphone use after the storm, in order not to strain a damaged system. He will be keeping an eye on the roads, he said, to determine whether closures are necessary.
“We’re loathe to close [the Merritt and Wilbur Cross] before we have to,” Malloy said, noting that essential personnel rely on the roads. “I would think that by 12 o’clock we’re talking about closure.”
Malloy added that he expects “a lot of road closures” over the next day or so.
New Haven began evacuating homeowners from the city’s Morris Cove section Saturday evening, and had extra police and firefighters standing by with heavy equipment from the National Guard in case emergency rescues become necessary.
Mayor John DeStefano said at 8 p.m. that the city was bracing for a tough night and even more ferocious morning.
“We expect the intersection of high winds, high tide and the storm surge of 4 to 6 feet in the morning,” DeStefano said at an emergency command post at the Nathan Hale School. “People need to prepare for power outages, prepare for flooding. And stay home.”
City officials anticipate that areas around Long Wharf and Union Station may be flooded by mid-day Sunday. They focused evacuation efforts on the Morris Cove section near Tweed New Haven Airport because access is severely limited; for many blocks, Route 337 is the only road out. Twenty-five firefighters and 14 police officers were working in Morris Cove, recommending that homeowners head somewhere safer for the night.
Just a few streets away, Carmine and Felix Betancourt hurried through the rain to pack up a red SUV with their three children, the dog and a tropical fish around 7:30 p.m. They’d put plywood over the windows of their house, and hoped it would get through the storm undamaged.
“My husband’s boss is nice enough to let us stay with him in West Haven. We bought this house four or five years ago, and this is the first time we’ve seen anything like this,” Carmine Betancourt said.
Firefighters went to several hundred Morris Cove homes to issue the evacuation notice; nearly half those people had already left, and most of the others were willing to leave, Assistant Fire Chief Patrick Egan said.
“But there are some who just want to stay,” he said.
On Whalley Avenue and downtown New Haven, most restaurants and shops remained open Saturday night. The windows of a CVS on Whalley were boarded up and a sign announced it was closing early; across the street, a Stop and Shop was open as usual and workers said they expected to back Sunday morning at 6.
City police asked downtown clubs to close a little earlier than usual, and are hoping to keep everyone off the streets from about daybreak through noontime or so.
Sidewalks around Long Wharf were deserted at 7 p.m. Union Station’s doors were locked and a sign advised it wouldn’t reopen until Monday morning. A Yale University shuttle bus was still running students back and forth to downtown, though, and groups of young people were casually walking along Chapel Street underneath umbrellas.
DeStefano made an appeal to homeowners, tenants and merchants across the city to bring in trash cans, lawn furniture and any other loose objects in their yards or parking lots.
“Those things are going to become missiles later tonight,” DeStefano said.
Police Chief Frank Limon encouraged New Haven people to contact the emergency operations center at 203-946-8221 if they need help during the storm.
The city is already setting up a plan for after Irene passes through. Several teams of inspectors will be deployed to check the safety of storm-damaged houses, parks crews will be assigned to cut up fallen trees that are blocking streets, and public works employees will be sent out with pay loaders and dump trucks to clear roadways. DeStefano emphasized that the first mission will be to push debris toward curbs to open roads to traffic; sometime afterward, workers will return to clear away the debris.
Connecticut Light and Power has opened its Emergency Operations Center in Berlin. The company’s communications office announced that about 800 CL&P and contractor line and tree crews are ready to restore power to customers affected by outages. By midnight Saturday, reported outages had increased from about 1,700 to just under 4000. To report outages or check the status of an outage visit http://www.cl-p.com or call 800-286-2000
By Saturday afternoon, city officials in Milford were ordering a mandatory evacuation of shoreline neighborhoods, where many houses are built on the beach close to the water. Jonathan Law High School was to be opened as an emergency shelter at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
But the city had already recommended that residents of those areas leave and on mid-day on Saturday many residents of the city’s Silver Sands Beach area had left or were in the process of leaving.
Milford Director of Health Andrew McBride said people began showing up at the shelter at 4 p.m., two hours before it officially opened. He said staff are urging people to stay with family or friends and use the shelter as a last resort. Shortly after 6 p.m., just one person was at the shelter and staff were processing two others. The shelter has a capacity of 71.
“In the past we have opened shelters but people did not show up in great numbers, so having people come before we officially opened was unusual,’ McBride said.
Sandra and Tom Haley were nailing sheets of plywood to the windows of their beach home at Silver Sands. Sandra Haley said they were going to ride out the storm in their home in Ansonia. Their beach house was built in 1905 and has seen plenty of dangerous weather, though flood waters in the past have flowed underneath it and onto the road without damaging the house, she said.
“We’ve lost a few decks and windows in the past but we’ve never had water in the house, we’re hoping we can keep that lucky streak going,” Sandra Haley said.
Down the road at the Blue Heron Store, which sells antiques, artwork and gifts, Maureen Lewis was getting items off the floor in case a storm surge sends water into the store, which she has owned for nine years. She had taped the windows and was planning on putting sandbags in front of the door before heading to her home in Newtown.
Louise Loomis was at the Milford beach house she has had for the past 54 years, putting away anything that could be picked up and thrown around by the strong winds before heading home to Bethany. She, too, has seen plenty of bad weather and developed a system for preparing that includes mounting plywood sheets on pulleys so they can be easily lowered to board up a porch that faces the water.
“You have to put away anything that moves,” Loomis said.
Ray Wasson took pictures of his house at Silver Sands for a before-and-after series of photographs. He said he was planning on riding out the storm at his home and had invited friends over for the evening.
“We’re going to hang out, we’ve got plenty of food and beer and wine,” Wasson said. “It’ll be exciting and hopefully everyone will be safe.”
Wasson said this is could be the third time that serious flooding has hit him. In 1991, flood waters from a major storm were above his front steps and his wife had to be rescued by emergency personnel. “In 1991, it was like a lake down here,” he said.
As of 3 p.m., Saturday, shelters had opened in Bridgeport (Bassick High School and Harding High School), in East Lyme (East Lyme Middle School), North Stonington (North Stonington Elementary School), Colchester (Bacon Academy), Groton (Fitch High School), Stonington (Stonington High School) and other towns. To search for an emergency shelter location, go to http://cour.at/pA3XVscq.
Away from the shore, in Torrington, the frantic, last-minute hunt for flashlights and batteries was fruitless. Those items were long gone from stores.
“The whole town is out of these,” CVS supervisor Mary Beth Lach said after yet another nervous but hopeful man walked and recited the day’s shopping list.
“D batteries?” “No,” she said. “Just double-A.”
“Flashlights?” None. “Radios?” No.
“We’ve had hundreds of people today looking for these,” she said. “We ran out.”
“The D battery is the holy grail,” shopper Gabriel Benet of Torrington said as he paid Lach for kitty litter. “I went everywhere to get some for my radio and flashlight. None anywhere.”
Farther north, in Canaan, a farm stand was trying to get people to buy. A roadside sign urged folks to buy corn from the stand before Irene churns through and damages the crop.
Hurricane Irene was downgraded from a Category 2 storm to Category 1 after it hit land in North Carolina on Saturday. It was carrying sustained winds of 85 mph, and was expected to cross Long Island and hit Connecticut’s shore on Sunday afternoon, packing most of its punch along the shoreline, according to Fox CT meteorologists.
Earlier Saturday, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for Connecticut and ordered federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts, provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures and to “lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in all counties in the State of Connecticut.”
Public transportation, including the CT Transit bus and par transit operations will be suspended in the Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, Bristol, New Britain, Meriden, Waterbury and Wallingford areas on Sunday. Shoreline East and Metro-North rail service also will stop.
The Department of Transportation advised motorists to travel for emergency purposes only. As the wind speed increases and rainfall gets heavier, the DOT also asked drivers to reduce their speed.
A hurricane warning remained in effect Saturday for Fairfield, Middlesex, New Haven and New London counties. The National Weather Service has also issued a tropical storm warning for Hartford, Tolland, Litchfield and Windham counties, as well as a flood watch for Litchfield, Hartford, Tolland, Windham, Fairfield, Middlesex, New Haven and New London counties.
The last time a hurricane warning was issued for the state of Connecticut was in September 1985, for Hurricane Gloria.
The Thimble Islands in Branford, one of the areas most prone to hurricane damage, were evacuated around 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning. A Branford fire boat and a police boat went from island to island asking residents to vacate or leave the area until the threat of the storm passes.
Those who chose to stay at their homes were required to sign a waiver acknowledging that no emergency personnel would be able to reach them if the weather worsened and they needed help, Deputy Fire Chief Ron Mullen said. Residents were also mandated to list a “next of kin” in case of any injuries, he said.
In Rowayton, a tony coastal enclave of marinas and lushly landscaped homes in Norwalk, residents were out and about early Saturday preparing for the impending storm.
“We’re hoping for the best,” said Nick Cotellassa Jr. of Norwalk as he tied down his boat Saturday morning along the Five Mile River. His boat is called “Reel Lucky” and his wife, Wendy, said she hopes the name signifies the boat’s fate during the hurricane.
The sound of duct tape being unrolled mixed with the occasional hum of a crane as boat owners worked against the clock to secure their vessels or lift them out of the water altogether.
The fear, said Matt Comyns, is that a loose boat will strike others. “The problem is, you can secure your boat the best you can but you have no idea how diligent everyone else is,” he said. “Yes you are concerned about the storm surge and everything else … but that might be the least of our worries. … You just worry about other people’s boats landing on yours.”
It wasn’t just the boats that crews were working to secure. At one marina, manager Philip Koenig was working with a colleague to tie down the Dumpsters in the parking lot. “These things can do a lot of damage,” he said.
In other coastal communities, residents were being asked to vacate while others were being forced out.
Officials in Old Saybrook “strongly encouraged” residents near Long Island Sound to evacuate their homes. They were calling and visiting house-to-house along the shoreline Saturday afternoon.
An evacuation center at the town’s high school was opened. Those residents electing to leave their homes were advised to bring three days worth of clothes, medicine and bedding with them to the shelter. People with pets are advised to leave them on the second floor of their homes with food and water, according to the notice.
In preparation for the tropical storm-force winds, sandbags were made available to residents in Bristol and Old Saybrook on Saturday.
Courant reporters William Leukhardt, Don Stacom and Melissa Pionzio contributed to this story.