After she awoke at 2 a.m. Monday, Meg Walsh decided she would leave her Pine Creek Avenue home later that day and go stay with friends as Hurricane Sandy stormed into the region.
She returned Wednesday afternoon to find her house intact. There was no heat, no electricity, but Walsh nonetheless was grateful that it had not been damaged -- or demolished, as were several shoreline homes -- by Sandy.
"I see what's happened over there and it just takes my breath away," she said. "Over there" was the other side of the creek, Fairfield Beach Road, where at least five houses were destroyed or pushed off their foundations into the water.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman was standing up on the same berm as Walsh on Wednesday, looking at what was left across the creek. While she was there, a home that fell into the creek and has been floating back and forth with the tides, was again making the trip back toward the mouth of the creek.
But homes inundated with water weren't the only visual casualties of the storm, Police Chief Gary MacNamara told Wyman.
"We have massive trees down all over town," he said, not to mention the hundreds of power lines the fallen limbs brought down.
Where are utility repair crews?
"Our DPW crews are ready to go," First Selectman Michael Tetreau told Wyman. In fact, by Tuesday, any roads blocked by trees that didn't involve wires had been removed by Department of Public Works crews -- the 280 downed trees that remain are those resting on or in power lines.
Some restoration of power was starting, however, as substations came back on line. But about 55 percent of Fairfield proper town remained without electricity early Thursday, down from an high of over 97 percent. And power in the Southport section of town was still blacked out, with United Illuminating reporting that one customer had electric service early Thursday.
"Seems like Fairfield needs more resources," Wyman said.
The plea for more UI repair crews -- there were three in Fairfield as of Wednesday -- were repeated when U.S. Rep. Jim Himes visited the town's emergency operations center later that same day.
"We need line crews, not tree crews," DPW Director Joseph Michaelangelo said.
And the town's main thoroughfares need to be energized, state Rep. Brenda Kupchick said, so residents can go to stores and get the supplies they need. Stores along Black Rock Turnpike and the Post Road began to slowly reopen Wednesday when power returned, although supplies were limited.
State Sen. John McKinney suggested that the state allow town employees in public works or the Fire Department be certified so they can determine whether downed wires are live, rather than waiting on crews from the utility company. There were even National Guard troops in town to assist UI, town officials said, but no UI crews for them to assist.
Home dark, damp home
Waters were starting to recede, but still covered some streets leading to the beach. Residents living 100 yards south of Old Post and Oldfield roads were allowed to return home Tuesday night, but were returning to homes that still had no utility service.
Michaelangelo said they were now using "monster pumps" stationed by dikes and tide gates on Riverside Drive and behind the tire training center to help move the water out.
Even once the water is gone, the process of getting people back to their homes will be involved and slow. Each home must be inspected for safety to determine if water reached electrical panels and if the house is structurally sound.
Those assessments started at the west end of Fairfield Beach Road, with crews brought there via boat by police from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, since some parts of the street were still flooded or blocked by sand. Firefighters and members of Urban Search and Rescue went to each house.
At some, they found people still home, having stayed put during the hurricane.
"We've taken out eight people throughout the day," Assistant Fire Chief Scott Bisson said of residents who decided another night without power as temperatures drop was not a good idea. "But other families have decided to stay."
Emergency crews used all types of transportation to get to neighborhoods south of the Old Post Road, from flat-bottomed boats to a borrowed tank to construction payloaders.
Surveying damage, planning recovery
Representatives from Federal Emergency Management Agency were also in town Wednesday, and got a tour of the damage via the town's police boat.
The town's shelter at Fairfield Ludlowe High School remained open as of Thursday. At its peak, it house about 214 residents and more than 40 pets, though by Wednesday that number was down to 150.
Holly Bisset returned to Pine Creek and the home she shares with her son's family Wednesday. She was busy spraying fresh water onto trees and bushes in the yard in an effort to keep them from dying from the storm's salt spray.
"This place was a real mess," Bisset said of the home's backyard. She said she wanted to stay, but "my son said he'd feel better if I didn't."
"It was noisy," said neighbor Nancy Strong, who stuck it out with her dog, Louis, when Sandy hit. She said around about midnight Monday they heard, and felt, the winds change direction. "That's what stopped the water from rising further," Strong said. "We didn't get anything in our basement.
As people slowly begin to return home, MacNamara said another concern arises -- repair scams. "People are going to take advantage," he said, and offer to do repair work for a cash fee up front or file paperwork with FEMA for a fee. "We don't want people to be victimized twice," the chief said.
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