Editorial: appropriate response
Last weekend, Fairfield County saw what is being called one of the worst storms in decades. The 65-mile-per-hour winds, combined with high levels of rainfall, flooded the area and left hundreds of thousands of people without power for days (some are still waiting for power to be restored). It was the kind of weather you expect to see (on TV) in Florida in August, not Connecticut in March.
As a result of the storm, schools in Fairfield County towns were shut down for more consecutive days than has been necessary for any recent snow storm; trees (some older than anyone reading these words) were destroyed; homes and vehicles are badly damaged, with repair estimates in Fairfield County topping $3 million; a few people had some close calls, and three people were killed, including a Fairfield native driving through Westport.
Yes, things were bad. But they could have been worse. Emergency responders in Fairfield were ready for this storm before it even hit. The Fairfield Fire Department gathered emergency equipment Friday and Saturday, and warnings were sent out to the public ahead of time through the town's Reverse 9-1-1 system. Medical teams and police were also standing by on high alert. The Fairfield Police Department, the fire department and public works brought in extra manpower. They were ready, but the storm hit harder than anyone anticipated.
Emergency responders raced all over town Saturday and Sunday to help victims. Comparatively, Fairfield was luckier than towns to the south and west, though the hundreds of people whose homes and vehicles were crushed by downed trees -- or whose boats washed up on someone else's beach -- may not see it that way just yet. But the majority of the town was up-and-running long before places like Westport, Norwalk and Greenwich.
In the storm's aftermath, some have criticized the town for a slow response. Many are criticizing the state's utility companies for an even slower response.
What we're forgetting, perhaps, is that the damages sustained all over town were greater than anyone imagined they would be. Between Saturday and Sunday, there were more than 500 emergency phone calls made to 9-1-1 and the police department, and at one point, the fire department was backed up by 40 calls. There were dozens of closed roads, making easy navigation through town impossible. The Public Works Department was able to clear away the major roads by Monday and most of the secondary and tertiary roads by Thursday. Clean-up efforts will likely continue through this weekend.
Communication is an area where Fairfield can stand to improve, but still, the town was working as hard as it could to answer its residents' pleas for help, and for that, we applaud and thank them.
The utility companies did not have things easy, either. Fairfielders get their electricity mostly from United Illuminating, with a couple homes getting electricity from Connecticut Light & Power. The companies had towns surrounding Fairfield that also required their attention. Even on a normal day, utility companies have a hard time staying on top of the demand for their door-to-door services (ever been asked to wait for the technician between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.?), so on a weekend where hundreds of thousands of people needed their help at the exact same time, they were stretched thin.
The companies needed to respond first to the most emergent needs and triage accordingly. Plus, the work of removing branches and debris that has become tangled in power lines is intricate and dangerous.
Their initial response may have been slow (and that will be determined by an investigation launched by Gov. M. Jodi Rell and led by the Department of Public Utility Control and the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security), and if that is the case, they will be held responsible for that. But in times of crisis, we should all be reminded that a little patience goes a long way, and that sometimes we just have to rough it. Let's make sure we're not pointing fingers just for the sake of having someone to blame.
Instead, let's be thankful for the help that was available -- and look to Haiti and Argentina for a little perspective.
As a community, we should make sure we thank not just the emergency response teams and the town departments, but also places in Fairfield -- like Ludlowe high school and the library -- and the surrounding towns that provided refuge and amenities for those displaced from their homes.
To help with yard waste, Green Cycle, the contractor that recycles yard waste for the town at its facility at 1 Rod Highway, has agreed to stay open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
To help residents qualify for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the town has set up an online form (www.fairfieldct.org) for residents to report damages. A hotline (203-256-3082) is also available today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Anyone with damage to their house or vehicle is encouraged to call the state Insurance Department's toll-free hotline at 800-203-3447 or visit www.ct.gov/cid to get answers to questions about claims.