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Frustration Boiling Over in Wake of Hurricane Sandy Outages

It's been a rough few years for Connecticut. Floods, snowstorms, hurricanes - and whatever brand of hybrid "SuperStorm" Sandy morphed into - has frayed the nerves of residents and town offiicials.

 

It’s becoming an autumn ritual: An unusual fall storm slams an unsuspecting Connecticut, and the power goes out all over the state.

Only this time, it was supposed to be different.

After Hurricane Irene smacked the Connecticut shore in August of 2011 with a damaging storm surge and pummeled inland areas with high winds that toppled trees and power lines, then a freak October snowstorm dumped more than a foot of wet snow that snapped branches and power poles, the state’s largest electric utility, Connecticut Light & Power, promised they’d do better than the more than two weeks it took to restore power to some of Connecticut’s residents in those storms.

Communication Breakdown

Today, though, five days after the brunt of Hurricane Sandy’s record storm surge obliterated large sections of the state’s coastline and left more than a third of the state in the dark, residents in the state’s coastal areas — many in southeastern Connecticut — continue to shiver in their houses without electricity as the chill of November creeps in.

“I have six roads that are blocked, ambulances can’t get through, the fire department can’t get through. This is a critical situation,” Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek Jr. said Thursday.

Many sections of town have yet to be cleared, and schools have been out of session all week. Haberek said the situation in Stonington, which still had 56% of its population without power as of midnight Thursday.

Haberek’s frustration derives not only from the lack of power in town, he said, but from the lack of communication that he feels has put his townspeople at risk.

“We can’t find out where the timetables are, (and) that’s critically important,” he said. “Twenty-nine percent of my population is seniors. I’ve got people I got to find oxygen tanks for. I’ve got people I’ve got to get medications for.”

After last year’s storms, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy convened a special panel to investigate the power-restoration failures of 2011 and conduct a full post-mortem. The state worked with CL&P to make sure the Irene and “Snowtober” scenarios were never repeated.

Yet nearly a week after Sandy, a freak late-season hurricane that merged with a cold front coming out of Canada to form a devastating cocktail of rain, wind, storm surge and, in some states, snow, many state residents are still in the dark.

Michael Alonge of Mystic said he's had no power since Monday at 4 p.m., and as of Thursday afternoon there was still a branch hanging from an electric line on Pequot Avenue near where he lives.

"It's been there since Monday and at least they should take it down," said Alonge, who went six days without power last year after Irene.

Montville Mayor Ron McDaniel also expressed frustration with the pace of recovery, saying that it’s been hard to get answers from CL&P about the numbers of crews in his town (he just received word on the numbers late Thursday).

McDaniel also said the town alerted CL&P about a CB tower on Chapel Hill Road that fell on a power line during the teeth of the storm and it has yet to be removed.

Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward said Thursday, "My frustration is starting to mount" with CL&P, charging that power crews were moving more quickly to fix lines in towns where officials have loudly complained. He pointed to the large presence in New London on Wednesday when Gov. Malloy visited to view the damage.

"That's not how it should work," Steward said. "They should be servicing us all equally."

'A Titanic Event'

CL&P has preached patience during this latest weather emergency, pointing to the fact that it called in hundreds of crews ahead of time and reminding the public that it takes time to repair thousands of damaged lines and substations.

On Thursday, Gov. Malloy said he’s concerned about what he’s hearing from some municipal leaders about the lack of communication between power officials and the towns.

“I’m hearing some of the same complaints that I heard last year,” Malloy said in a press briefing Thursday. “One of the ones that bothers me the most is that what utility companies are telling me is not lining up with what mayors or first selectmen say is happening in their towns and I’ve asked for an accounting of that disconnect. I’m not sure who’s right and who’s wrong.”

Malloy, though, asked for patience in this time of crisis.

“This was a titanic event that only ended hours ago, not weeks.”

Malloy also said that CL&P and United Illuminating, which serves hundreds of thousands of customers mostly in New Haven and Fairfield Counties, will be subject to a review under a state law passed after the panel investigated the utilities’ response to last year’s storms.

Resident Unrest

Still, the state’s residents are reeling after a string of weather emergencies that extends back to massive flooding in the spring of 2010 and the winter of 2010-11, when several crippling snowstorms caused widespread power outages and school and business cancellations. Add Irene and “Snowtober” to the mix, plus Sandy, and the frustration level among residents is palpable.

In the comments sections of Hurricane Sandy-related articles on southeastern Connecticut Patch sites, residents are sounding off. Here is a sampling:

Commenter Jack Everett: "As usual CL-P is all hype and no action. This scam corporation should be made to sell oiut and we need a reliable company that will do the job instead of lip service. They announced this morning they were going to skip whole blocks of residential areas and just do their business customers for now. CL-P was supposed to be ready for this they had all the warning they needed and still screwed up. This pr with tree trimming that was supposed to be going on for a year now was a joke and all they do is make lip service promises to their customers. In the mean time we all lose our food and heat while they look for more rate hikes and bonuses."

Commenter Wayne Gilpin on Waterford Patch: "Prior to the storm they said they had 2500 linemen on stand-by. This AM on the radio (94.0) a spokesman from CL&P said that they had put in a request for 2500 and had 1000 coming. When questioned by Lee Elci about the 2500 "boots on the ground" they spoke of last week, he said that included employees from non-field postitions who were out assisting the field people. That guy should run for office with that skill at double-talk. When they talk linemen numbers, are they referring to total linemen, or the number of crews that are out? Waterford: 51% out on the CL&P map for two days now. That's what they call progress."

Commenter Wendy on Clinton Patch: "CL&P is down 80 lineman, seriously they haven't learned anything from last years storm!! I haven't seen one truck here in Clinton although power has been restored to some areas I am assuming with a flick of the switch... When they say they'll give an estimate on Thursday they should say it otherwise don't tell us that! Down 80 lineman? Really CL&P? After all we do pay tons of money to you every month!"

Commenter RB on Branford Patch: "What do you really expect for communication from the power companies' talking heads? All we are going to get is lip service. They have to answer to the share holders first then go after the big money - RT1 for example business and industry pay a much higher rate than residential service. NYC has major problems not only from the storm damage but from the moron of a mayor. NYC has deep pockets, if they want power co crews they are going to get them first. Remember us lowly residential customers are at the bottom of the list, believe me. Every time we loose power to a storm, I know we are going to be out for a long time. My best investment has been a diesel whole house generator since 1985's Gloria. You have to be self sufficient during these times."

Commenter Joe Bucci on Branford Patch: "According to my clients in this field, the priorities are as folows: NYC, FFLD County, NH County and CT Shoreline based on level of devastation. To all of you who have commented on the FACT that CLP and the State of CT have not learned from lat year - you are correct! What you may not know is that internally, within CLP & UI, they have technology and committees tracking weather patterns and probabilities long before it becomes public news. The FACT that they could have statistically predicted such another occurrence and not have ramped up preventive measures is a PRIME example of how our state operates. Too all of you, I wish you a Good Luck!"

Paul November 02, 2012 at 03:21 PM
@ The Patch. You neglected to include even one of the numerous comments in support of the CL&P efforts to restore power after this devastating huge storm... WHY?
Sandy Hoffman November 02, 2012 at 07:23 PM
My husband is there from MO working to help. He left here Sat afternoon in preparation. Takes time to drive the big trucks that distance through rough weather. Please be patient.....the roads in your state are blocked which takes time away from the crews being able to repair your lines. Thoughts and prayers for all of you...and keep my husband safe.
Paul November 03, 2012 at 12:13 AM
@ Deborah Straszheim...Is it the Patch's intention to totally ignore my question above. You gave a lot of attention to the CL&P naysayers but none to the supporters...Is that the Patch philosophy...To push your point of view and ignore countering opinions... I dont think you learned that in journalism school... Ill wait to see if you do the correct thing...Time will tell if the Patch is a viable form of journalism. I hope to hear from you and if NOT?
Jim November 03, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Jim Hanna 8:05 pm on Friday, November 2, 2012 @ Sandy...Pls thank your husband for me..it is very much appreciated as is your sacrifice by not having him home... THANKS
JustSomeone00 November 03, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Sandy - thank you for your sacrifice during our disaster! Jim - The Patch is proving more and more every day that they can't keep up with news (let's go back to Halloween, when it took them five hours after the town of groton issued their stance on Halloween!). As far as CL&P goes, they have plenty of people bashing them in the comments, they don't need to put it in as a story. This isn't breaking news, this isn't anything we don't know. Yes, people are POed with CL&P and being without power, but plenty of us understand the sacrifices made by the families of these linemen, and these men.
Judy Rogers Evans November 03, 2012 at 09:10 PM
I appreciate the sacrifices and hard work put forth by the CL&P line crews. I do not appreciate being left in the dark (pun intended) re the restoration plans. The Milford Patch displays UI's tentative restorations on a street by street basis - giving those resident's a glimmer of hope. What has the management of CL&P shared except generalities, and vague promises.
Paul November 03, 2012 at 11:47 PM
@ Deborah Straszheim...Me again still waiting for an answer...Below is a copy of your beliefs from your Patch online bio... Im letting you know that you and the Patch have FAILED. Your Beliefs At Patch, we promise always to report the facts as objectively as possible and otherwise adhere to the principles of good journalism. However, we also acknowledge that true impartiality is impossible because human beings have beliefs. So in the spirit of simple honesty, our policy is to encourage our editors to reveal their beliefs to the extent they feel comfortable. This disclosure is not a license for you to inject your beliefs into stories or to dictate coverage according to them. In fact, the intent is the opposite: we hope that the knowledge that your beliefs are on the record will cause you to be ever mindful to write, report and edit in a fair, balanced way. And if you ever see evidence that we failed in this mission, please let us know. Are you really going to just ignore me???
Jim November 04, 2012 at 12:01 AM
@ Judy Rogers Evans..Last time I checked CL&P had maybe 20 times the area of UI..I would much rather they spend their time on the polls fixing real problem and less time pandering to princesses like you... You were informed well prior to the storm to expect long term outages..Thats what you should have planned for..You have no concept of the complexity of managing such a complex situation.. BTW did you prepare for this?... I guess not since you admit you are in the dark....ON ALL FRONTS... While you are in the dark feeling sorry for yourself..Try thinking of the now 96 souls lost, 1000's of homes gone and the 30billion $$$$ in damage... You are the lucky one here...Stop whinning
Paul November 06, 2012 at 12:42 AM
@THE PATCH & DEBORA STRASZHEIM....Your silence is deafening.... ITS OBVIOUS YOU DONT GIVE A CRAP ABOUT YOUR FULL OF BS BELIEFS OR MISSION...the patch is just another worthless rag that will fall by the wayside...Put your beliefs where the sun dont shine...My guess is that you will delete this as it doesnt meet the high standards of the Patch.... Please!!!!

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