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Ferrying his neighbors across turbulent creek

Updated 8:58 pm, Saturday, November 10, 2012
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The beachfront in Fairfield was one of the hardest hit spots in the region.

Fairfield Beach Road is the heavily built spine of the west-pointing peninsula that faces Long Island Sound on the south and Pine Creek on the north. Over the decades, the area has changed from a neighborhood of low-slung, unwinterized summer cottages, to a permanent community of multimillion dollar homes.

It was this neighborhood that took a pounding. Some homes were obliterated; some went relatively unscathed.

Michael O'Donnell, who owns a marine electrical company, lives on Old Dam Road, on the other side of the creek, next to a dike that would protect him from its waters.

He spent hours during the storm ferrying people back and forth across the creek, a turbulent 75-foot route through the flotsam. They were property owners anxious to learn the status of their homes. Did they, for instance, still have one. Departure and pickup arrangements were made by cell phone. And O'Donnell's little run about was ready to go.

Why did he do it? In a brief email, this is what he said:

"Because somebody asked me to. Then, somebody else asked. I felt for them. I couldn't say no. They just kept coming. I live behind a dike. The ground floor of my home is at 9.8 feet. The dike is, as we now know, thirteen and a quarter.

"Two more inches of water and it would have flooded in. I would have lost everything.

"As the water rose near the top, I was carrying our most precious things to the second floor, my grandmother's kitchen table, my great grandmother's linens, the portrait of my nieces that my sister painted... I was very close to losing everything.

"Many of them did. I guess I was very sensitive to their plight."