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Hazards remain despite Sandy's departure

Updated 5:32 pm, Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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"The storm has passed, the hazards remain," Police Chief Gary MacNamara said Tuesday morning in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy's savage overnight visit to town.

Evidence of damage -- though not as dire as widely predicted -- was still serious and widespread:

At 7 a.m. Tuesday, nearly 98 percent of the town had lost electric service.

Five homes on Fairfield Beach Road were left uninhabitable by the storm surge, according to town officials. In-person assessments could reveal wider devastation, they said Tuesday.

Fairfield public school are closed at least through Wednesday.

Fairfield Public Schools are closed through Wednesday. Supt. of Schools David Title said a decision on whether schools need to remain closed longer will be made on Wednesday.

The emergency shelter at Fairfield Ludlowe High School remains open indefinitely, still housing more than 200 people.

Town Hall offices are open only for essential employees. First Selectman Michael Tetreau said when it will reopen to the public is not yet known.

Signs of Sandy's wrath were visible around town with dozens and dozens of uprooted trees, many of them on utility wires, some homes possibly about ready to fall in Pine Creek, and people driving and walking all over town to look at the damage.

Town officials said Tuesday their what they want most of all is for people to stay home so crews can get to work clearing roads of uprooted trees and downed branches. First Selectman Michael Tetreau said after Tuesday's high tide, crews will go to flooded areas to determine when beach area residents could return.

For now, Tetreau said, the town is focused solely on clearing roads of trees and wires. "There will be no restoration efforts today," he said. "We will start tomorrow, setting priorities. We need our residents to help us help them."

The emergency storm shelter at Fairfield Ludlowe High School remains open, where about 214 residents have gone since Sunday.

How long it remains open has not yet been determined; that will be a day to day decision.

Superintendent of Schools David Title said for now, schools are scheduled to reopen Thursday. That too, he said, could change. Right now, Board of Education employees are focused on helping the town's recovery efforts, especially at the shelter.

He added that while it looks like Sherman School was inundated by storm water, no water got into the school itself.

Town Hall is open only for essential employees, manning a call center line, and Tetreau said that is another decision that will be made on a daily basis.

"This is still a state of emergency," Tetreau said.

Fire Chief Richard Felner said his department rescued about a dozen beach area homeowners Monday night, who initially chose not to evacuate. The rescues were made by boat.

Damage is evident from the hurricane all over town.

On Springer Road, two large town trees fell in the yard and on the home of Juliet and Selig Danzig. Selig Danzig said it didn't appear that there was much damage to the house. "You look at this and you say, `Thank God nobody was hurt,' " he said. "We're lucky, we're lucky.'

At Southport Beach on Pequot Avenue, the road was covered with lots of sand from the beach, and the concession stand that once stood at the beach was washed by the storm surge to the other side of the road. Had it not been for a tree and guardrail, it might have tumbled into the marsh.

As a large payloader tried to clear the road of the piles of sand and broken asphalt, people continued to walk down the street, snapping photographs.

Cars once again lined Sasco Hill into Sasco Beach as sightseers came to see what was left. There, the parking lot was covered with sand and that concession stand was moved off its base.

"I've been here 31 years," Public Works Superintendent Scott Bartlett said, as he drove around Tuesday surveying the damage and directing crews where they were most needed. "We've had some humdingers, but this may be the humdinger of them all ... It's bad."

Tetreau said while there is no official dollar estimate yet, he said it far exceeds the damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene.

 

The gathering storm

In a last-gasp attempt to get residents to follow mandatory evacuation orders and leave the low-lying shoreline neighbors, top officials staged a waterfront press conference Sunday at Penfield Pavilion to underscore their concerns.

They likened the feared impact of Sandy to the fearsome hurricane of 1938, which leveled buildings along Fairfield's beaches and was known as the "Long Island Express."

They also expanded the mandatory-evacuation area from the town's beach area north to the Old Post/Oldfield roads area, with voluntary evacuation from there farther north to the Post Road.

At that stage, officials said they feared flooding could even reach the Post Road commercial district of town.

An emergency shelter was opened at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, which can accommodate about 400 to 500 people, to handle the evacuees who had no other alternate locations to seek shelter.

"If you flooded before, you will flood again," Police Chief Gary MacNamara warned. "If you came close to flooding (in Tropical Storm Irene), you will flood this time."

First Selectman Michael Tetreau repeated his earlier appeal to residents living in areas near the beach, or near waterways like the Rooster and Mill rivers, which could also flood.

"Please leave," the first selectman said. "Don't wait until the last minute, it may be too late."

Fire Chief Richard Felner said firefighters have distributed about 1,000 evacuation notices in the town's beach area to inform residents of the evacuation order.

Carol Muller, a Hulls Highway resident, said her biggest concern before the storm was a nearby stream. She spent the morning cleaning out the stream in hopes of preventing it from flooding the street.

Fred and Nancy Mis, Penfield Road residents, said, "We've been an island in the past," Fred Mis said. He and his wife planned to be "dividing and conquering" during the onslaught, he said. Fred Mis planned to maintain the generator at the house if power goes out, while Nancy would care for the dogs and head to a friend's house.

"If it gets too hard, I'll leave," Fred Mis said. Nancy Mis said the hardest part is once people evacuate their homes, it's not certain when they will be allowed to return.

Not-so-calm before the storm

As Hurricane Sandy bore down on the region Monday amid forecasts of widespread destruction, residents made last-minute runs to the few businesses that remained opened in Fairfield.

One was Demetri's Barber Shop at 48 Reef Road. "We are dedicated to our clientele," said employee Teddy Hasiotis of the decision to open in the face of the predicted onslaught.

"My brother lives down the street -- he was evacuated yesterday. I came to give him a hand and figured I'd open while here. I don't plan to be around long though."

Rite Aid was another downtown business that was still open late Monday morning.

Michele Ross, owner of Letarte Swimwear on Carter Henry Drive, was buying a checkerboard and magazines at the pharmacy to ride out the storm. "Our games are up in Vermont where we typically lose power. Otherwise, we're pretty well stocked up. I was surprised Rite Aid had batteries."

In terms of her own business, Ross said, "We moved inventory off the floor, shut down computers and servers, and received deliveries. We put big fabric bolts against the doors. I think we are going to be out of power for three to five days. I think it's going to be worse than people think."

Hemlock Hardware on the Post Road was a popular destination for pre-storm shoppers. Co-owner Scott Pesavento said, "We ran out of generators yesterday. Other popular items have been extension cords, flashlights, lanterns and tarps. We probably sold 15,000 D batteries alone since Friday."

Of course, many like to raise their spirits during a storm with, well, some spirits.

Renzo Kian, beer manager at Harry's Liquor & Wine Market, said, "On Sunday, we did sales equal to our Friday nights, our busiest days of the week. We probably sold hundreds of cases of beer."

A Harry's customer, Sarah Hamm, said, "I live by Compo Beach in Westport, was evacuated and came to Fairfield to stay with family friends ... and buy beer."