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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Power Coming Back Slowly; School Opening Delayed

By James Lomuscio

Two days after Tropical Storm Irene slammed into Westport, the town was slowly recovering today but not fast enough to get 5,000 schoolchildren back to their classrooms.

WestportNow.com Image
Dunkin’ employee Julio Arces on restoration: “It’s good because no power, no work, no money.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Lomuscio for WestportNow.com

As power and lights flickered on to key business areas and some neighborhoods, Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury, acting in his capacity as Emergency Management Director, ordered schools closed for at least an additional day for safety reasons.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, in a CodeRed emergency telephone notification late in the day to all residents, said power restoration was slow but steady.

“We don’t know when full power will be available,” he said. “We hope it is only days.”

Hours after he spoke, most sections of Saugatuck Shores had their lights on. The holdup was a massive tangle of trees and wires on Saugatuck Avenue, according to CL&P. The roadway was reopened tonight.

Public Works Director Steve Edwards said the reason progress has been slow is that the wires are surrounded by a number of branches dangling or broken trees leaning against other trees.

Kingsbury called these precarious trees and branches “widow makers” since they unexpectedly fall.

That is the main reason Kingsbury ordered schools to remain closed on Wednesday, the day Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon had scheduled for the first day of school after a one-day postponement.

“We’re going to go day by day,” Kingsbury said. “We’re hopeful that we will have it all cleared up by Thursday. We’ll go out tomorrow morning, do surveys and continue to reevaluate.

“After we went out this morning I decided to close the schools because I saw a lot of widow makers,” he said. “The good news is that we’re getting lot of the power restored.”

By tonight, CL&P said about 35 percent of the town, or slightly more than 4,000 customers, remained without power, down from 50 percent Monday.

“The level fluctuates because we have to disconnect some areas to connect others, so it jumps around a lot,” Edwards said. “But, we’re in a downward trend, and we’re heading in the right direction.

Westport’s main arteries had power restored this morning, and it was a boon to businesses shuttered following Irene.

“I feel great because now I’m working,” said Julio Arce an employee at Dunkin’ Donuts at 806 Post Road East. “The power came on at 11 this morning. It’s good because no power, no work, no money.’

Bob Mitchell, a principal at Mitchell’s of Westport, said that his store’s power was restored at 10 a.m.

He said it was the longest time that the third generation clothing store had been off the grid, though it had remained on generator power during the outage.

“I think the town handled it well, and we’re happy to see people come through the door and to hear they have power,” said Mitchell

He added that he is without power at his Weston home. “We’re hoping to see the town running back at its full strength.”

Edwards said that will take a while, even if main arteries are back.

“Compo is dominantly restored, but the small side roads are not,” he said. “Now we’re restoring the main roads. The side roads may take a week.”

Early this evening, CL&P repair and Asplundh tree removal trucks were out along Clinton Avenue and Roseville Road where several widow makers had fallen the day after the hurricane.

In the wake of frustration from residents still without power, Edwards said that his and CL&P’s crews are working hard.

“We worked straight through the first 36 hours, but now it’s just sun up to sun set,” he said. “You can only go to the well so many time, so now we’re working 13 hour days instead.”

Edwards added that the massive cleanup will continue Wednesday, with tree debris being deposited at town-owned sites at Longshore, the transfer station, off Newtown Turnpike, and town-owned “postage stamp” sites throughout Westport.

He also said that on Wednesday a contracted street cleaner will sweep and scrape sand and sea debris along Bradley Street, which had been under two feet of water, in the Compo Beach section.

“I’ve got three basic crews out there now,” Edwards said. “And two are working with Connecticut Light & Power basically clearing the trees out of the wires after CL&P turns of the power. I’ve got the third crew on the clean up of debris.”

In his CodeRed message, Joseloff said he had received many calls from residents saying they had not seen any CL&P trucks.

“Believe me, they are out there,” he said. “They may not say CL&P, and they may not be yellow. But believe me they are out there.”

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Posted 08/31/11 at 02:15 AM  Permalink



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If Kingsbury, as he was quoted, knew after his Tuesday morning survey that he would order schools be closed, why did all the elementary school “meet the teachers” go forward, and the middle school orientation events take place, and why was there no notice to parents or faculty until mid-afternoon regarding the Wednesday closure?

What are they finding this morning, and why must we again wait until late in the day to find out their conclusions?

Posted by Heidi McGee on August 31, 2011 at 02:26 PM | #