Irene pulled her punch, but still socks Fairfield
Published 6:35 pm, Tuesday, August 30, 2011
That's what Fairfield town and emergency-services officials were sighing, collectively, Sunday night after Tropical Storm Irene ripped though the region earlier in the day, knocking out power to thousands locally -- and nearly 800,000 customers statewide at the peak of the onslaught -- blocking roads with fallen trees and power lines, forcing Metro-North Railroad to suspend service for at least two and a half days, and savaging the state's shorefront communities, including -- close to home -- a pummeling that caused several unoccupied buildings on Fairfield Beach Road to collapse.
The rains and winds moved in Saturday night, but the center of the storm struck the area about 11 a.m. Sunday -- roughly the same time as high tide -- causing the tide to surge several feet above normal and, whipped by winds cresting at 65 mph, the surf pounded the shoreline mercilessly.
The pounding took its toll beyond the collapsed buildings in Fairfield by forcing evacuations of hundreds from other shoreline neighborhoods in Fairfield, flooding streets and basements, and inflicting all kinds of property damage.
Fairfield provided shelter for about 70 evacuees at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. Though Irene was downgraded from hurricane status -- its winds two days earlier were clocked at about 120 mph -- to a tropical storm with winds below hurricane force of 75 mph, that was small comfort to those in southwestern Connecticut displaced by the storm and whose property was damaged. There was no loss of life reported in this region, although at least two others in the state died in circumstances linked to the storm.
The National Weather Service said rainfall amounts Sunday in southern Fairfield County were about 3 inches, with 3.5 inches measured at the NWS station at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford. But readings farther north showed heavier rain, from 6.7 inches in Danbury to 7.4 inches in Monroe.
The strongest wind gust measured at NWS station in Stratford was 63 mph, with sustained wind readings at 46 mph.
Innterim First Selectman Michael Tetreau sounded a similarly relieved, but cautious note, as Joseloff in the wake of the storm Monday.
"We have a lot of work to do," he said, surveying the hardest-hit area of town along Fairfield Beach Road, where not only three buildings collapsed, but other homes were seriously damaged, numerous utility poles and wires were torn down, and piles of sand washed onto the road made it impassable.
However, Tetreau said, he was pleased by how the town's emergency services -- police, fire and public works -- handled the challenges posed by Irene.
I am proud of our emergency personnel and how they worked together," he said.
For many area residents who weathered Irene, it also proved to be a mixed bag. The storm proved less fierce than initial forecasts indicated, but still proved plenty miserable for those whose lives were disrupted or who suffered significant property damage.
The experience of one Fairfield man and his family illustrates the contradictions of Irene: Finding a safe place to ride out the storm seemed simple for Dave Crawford, a professor of anthropology at Fairfield University. He originally planned to evacuate his family from their waterfront home in Fairfield to a campus location.
"We were going to camp out in my office," he said.
But they ended up spending the night with friends on Valley Road. The irony is that while Crawford said his beachfront property survived intact, the stream across from his friends' home flooded and swept across the street into the yard.
"I opened the door and went, `Ahhhhh,' " said Crawford.
Crawford was also awake around 6 a.m. to witness a large tree uproot and fall onto the roof of the neighboring home at 1106 Valley Road, taking a utility poll and wires with it.
Damage to the structure appeared minimal, but the tree and its branches filled almost the entire front yard.
The house appeared to be empty. Neighbors could not immediately identify the names of the residents, but said they had been home the day before storing away lawn furniture.
Paul Smith, another Valley Road resident, pointed out a rain-soaked notice from the Fairfield tree warden stapled to the trunk of the downed tree -- it was supposed to be cut down because of a rotten trunk.
"It's the town or Mother Nature. Mother Nature got there first," Smith said. "I had two trees removed this winter. Thank God I did."