Fairfield assessing storm damage, cost; hopes to secure federal reimbursement
Published 2:19 pm, Wednesday, March 17, 2010
What many are calling the worst storm to hit Fairfield in nearly two decades has finally passed. Now it's time to assess the damage.
"There's no question it's over a million dollars, and probably well north of that figure," said First Selectman Ken Flatto on Tuesday. "Because of the tree damage, the houses hit, the flooding and the town's [additional] workforce brought in, it's probably in the multi-million- dollar range."
Initiating the first step to receive financial assistance, Gov. M. Jodi Rell declared a state of emergency in Fairfield County, which enables the town to apply for federal aid that could reimburse between 50 and 100 percent of the storm's costs.
The process could take less than three weeks to complete, and homeowners who experienced damage would qualify for direct reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). To help the process, the town is setting up an online form at www.Fairfieldct.org, where residents can report and describe their property damages. A hotline will operate Thursday between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. and Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The number is (203) 256-3082.
"We're hopeful that this will translate to coverage that would cover homeowners, just like after tornadoes in the Midwest," Flatto said.
As the chaos raged over the weekend, the town called in extra police officers, firemen and public works officials. That alone will cost Fairfield over $100,000, Flatto said. And there was damage to both the Penfield Pavilion and the Sullivan McKinney Elder Housing center, Flatto added. Chief Building Inspector Jim Gilleran said that five homes in town required special attention from his office due to tree damage. Three required temporary or permanent closings.
Fairfield Police Capt. Donald Smith said that 307 calls came in Saturday requesting police help, and 207 calls came in on Sunday, representing more than three times the typical rate.
"I was down there and the phones were ringing non-stop," he said. "Every dispatcher was receiving calls and we brought in extra staffing."
Public Works Director Richard White said that more than three inches of rain fell from Friday afternoon through Sunday morning at the town's water treatment center. Most of the downed trees were cleared to the sides of roads by Monday, though he imagines the cleaning won't be finished until at least this weekend. To help residents, Green Cycle, the contractor that recycles yard waste for the town at its facility on One Rod Highway, has agreed to stay open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Friday and from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
The fire department reported being sent to more than 140 calls on Saturday, including fires, downed wires and trees and accidents. At one point, the department was backed up 40 calls, said Assistant Chief Scott Bisson. The calls were prioritized based on life safety.
The Reverse 9-1-1 System was used on Saturday around 6 p.m. and residents were advised that a voluntary evacuation was recommended for homes along the shoreline, officials said. An emergency shelter was opeend at Fairfield Ludlowe High School for evacuees. Only six people used the facility, Fire Chief Richard Felner said.
Meanwhile, dozens of roads were closed and travel was restricted due to wires and trees down, and numerous vehicles and homes were struck by trees and limbs, including a Ford SUV, which was hit by a large tree squarely across its windshield while on Old Post Road. One driver had to be extricated from a vehicle and transported to the hospital after the vehicle was struck by a tree on Wakeman Road.
According to Assistant Chief Doug Chavenello, who was the shift commander throughout Saturday, by 2:25 p.m. the storm was beginning to tear roof tiles away from BJ's Wholesale Club at 40 Black Rock Turnpike. The store was temporarily closed due to the potentially hazardous conditions.
"The town's workforce has responded flawlessly in the largest storm we've experienced in a long, long time," Flatto said on Monday. "It was akin to a very light hurricane, with 50-plus mile-per-hour wind gusts over a 36-hour period."
Flatto praised the United Illuminating Company's (UI) tireless work, but criticized the company for allowing live wires to sit on streets for up to 36 hours at a time. He called that "unacceptable," and said he would ask for a meeting with UI to prevent it from occurring in the future.
UI, reached for comment, said it welcomed the chance to sit down with Flatto.
UI said that roughly 6,200 homes in Fairfield were reported as having no power on Saturday, 4,200 on Sunday, 1,500 on Monday, and, at press time Tuesday, 704 homes, or roughly 3 percent of the town. A spokesman said the company's goal was to restore all those homes to power by Wednesday morning.
The power outages necessitated the closure of Fairfield Public Schools on Monday. All reopened on Tuesday. Calls to administration officials requesting information about whether the storm damaged school property were not returned as of press time Tuesday.
Deputy Police Chief Gary McNamara said that each town department will debrief on their response to the storm and use this as a new model for future protocols. Each resident, he said, should do the same.
"See how you did: how prepared were you, how'd you respond, how would you do it next time?" he said.
Flatto echoed McNamara's call.
"Our area one day is going to be hit with something worse than this," he said. "We haven't had the kind of event that could happen to a coastal town like this."