Stevenson to Darienites: 'Safety is our priority'
Three days into storm recovery, Darien is experiencing "unusual times after Sandy," according to First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, who hosted a public informational meeting Friday night.
She said she considers Darien to be lucky in terms of the impact of Hurricane Sandy earlier this week in comparison to the devastation that New York and New Jersey have suffered.
"I'm very happy to tell you we haven't suffered any loss of life or injuries," Stevenson said to the packed Community Room at the Darien Library.
She said 25 homes have been damaged by the storm and two are uninhabitable. She also said there may be damaged homes that have not yet been identified and urged residents to report damages to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We've been really lucky with the weather so far, which has been a benefit to our recovery and restoration efforts," Stevenson said. "However, the weather's getting much colder at night and we worry about the elderly and those who might be sick."
There is no emergency shelter open in Darien, but Stevenson did say that the town is prepared to open a shelter again as the need arises. Regional emergency shelters are available at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk and Stamford High School.
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As Friday evening, 14 public and 15 private roads are inaccessible to emergency vehicles, which means no fire trucks or ambulances would be able to reach those areas should they be needed.
"I am committed to making sure that those homes that are inaccessible to emergency vehicles are my first and highest priority," Stevenson said.
The town has been working simultaneously with Connecticut Light & Power, she said, to begin the restoration phase, but that there has been significant damage to a critical portion to CL&P's backbone that must be fixed first.
Since the storm ended, Darien has had at least 12 CL&P crews in town as well as many more working the actual restoration efforts overnight. As of Friday evening, 49 percent of CL&P Darien customers were without power.
"Restoration means CL&P crews that are out rehanging wires on the poles and trying to get the ability to re-energize those wires," Stevenson said.
She said there has been a massive coordinated effort between CL&P and the Town of Darien to clean up broken utility poles, move debris and other situations. She said critical facilities such as Town Hall and several schools are still powerless.
Stevenson said she hopes that school will be in session on Monday on a delayed opening, but the final decision will not be made until Sunday at noon.
"The decision will be based on power at schools and whether or not buses can make it through the routes," Stevenson said.
CL&P has a global restoration estimate for Darien and is hoping that the town will have 95 percent of its power restored by Tuesday. "I can only hope that their estimates are correct," Stevenson said.
Regarding other utilities, such as Cablevision or AT&T, Stevenson said, if residents have the ability, they should reach out to those companies directly.
She urged residents to report their disaster information to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and to sign up for CodeRed on both home and cell phones to get updated alerts.
Stevenson said the transfer station is open for residents with non-commercial vehicles to bring storm debris this weekend until 5 p.m. and that commercial vehicles can bring debris to City Carting in Stamford.
Darien's proximity to New York and New Jersey, which were both devastated by Sandy, caused gas stations to be overrun on Friday, leaving several of them without gas. Stevenson said many of them will receive new deliveries.
"I do anticipate that traffic will be very challenging as we move through our weekends at our grocery stores and gas stations," Stevenson said. "We are fully staffed and over-staffed to be able to respond to any civil unrest that may come about in any of those places. What I can ask of you is, please be patient and if you can avoid your normal Saturday afternoon errands, it would be a very good idea."
For the best updates regarding power outages, Stevenson suggested viewing CL&P website. "It's much more up to date than anything I can give you," Stevenson said.
She then invited the audience to bring forth any questions or comments.
One resident reported that Maywood Road is still blocked by a tree. Stevenson said the town was aware of Maywood and that she believes there is access to that road via Norwalk Road.
"Any roads that we know where there is an alternate access, out a different way and those folks are inaccessible to emergency vehicles, those are the ones we're concentrating on," she said.
One resident said she ran into a utility company representative from Missouri who said it was working 13-hour shifts and wanted to applaud the efforts of the town.
"The work that these people do is dangerous, time-consuming, and very, very tiring," Stevenson said. "So we have to understand that, yes, even these workers too have to rest so they can be safe and efficiently store power to our community. Safety is our priority -- not only for you but also for the people who are here serving us."
One resident wanted to know if Darien had plans to place patrolmen at the intersections without traffic lights, particularly the confusing ones on Post Road near Interstate 95's Exit 11. "I think a traffic cop would be a good thing to have," the resident said.
Stevenson said the town is always reassessing its need to use patrolmen, but said they are not always as effective as people may think, which is why the town has asked for more stop signs.
"It's when people get impatient and don't respect those stop signs that things digress a bit," Stevenson said.
One resident said CL&P marches to its own drummer, and wondered how it knew which roads were priorities and which ones weren't. He relayed a story about a tree being down on Mansfield Avenue that made it impassable for any emergency vehicles.
Stevenson said municipal employees cannot go onto state roads, like Mansfield, even if they have a CL&P crew available to them.
"Our job is to press the Department of Transportation to make sure that those primary arteries and state roads are some of the first to be open," Stevenson said. "There needs to be a quicker response from the Department of Transportation on clearing some of those state roads."
One resident said it was easier to ask forgiveness than permission.
Stevenson said the next phase of restoration was how to bring the town back online in a systematic way.
"The way CL&P always does it, is they work out from the substations and power gets restored to the largest populations first," Stevenson said. "Unfortunately, the folks who are typically last to get their power last will stay last."
Stevenson asked the residents to continue to be patient.
"Please ask everyone you see to be patient," she said. "Like all significant disasters, we will get through this. It will come to an end and we will learn from it as we always do."
One resident asked whether the CL&P crews were staying through the weekend.
Stevenson responded, "They're going to stay until this disaster is cleaned up, I assure you of that."
State Sen. Carlo Leone spoke briefly, saying that the people who have helped with disaster recovery deserve so much credit. "It's in these times with so much stress that they really shine," Leone said.
He said he would love to see even more trucks in Darien. "For any areas you feel that aren't being addressed in any way, please let us know, our job is to advocate on your behalf," Leone said.
He too urged residents to file damage claims with FEMA. "File with FEMA that you may have been impacted in some way and if your insurance doesn't cover it, then the federal government will step up and offer you options as well," Leone said.
Leone said residents should check out the Connecticut's Insurance Department at www.ct.gov/cid for information about insurance and deductibles. Connecticut residents will not have to pay deductibles for hurricane damage from their insurance, Leone said.
State Rep. Terrie Wood said she toured the bay Friday afternoon and that "the devastation down there leaves you speechless."
"This was an enormous storm, a storm we've never seen in this area," Wood said, reiterating that residents should be patient. "It takes time to repair the damage and restore the power."
State Sen. Bob Duff said all the officials would be with the entire town until the power came back. "We'll stand shoulder to shoulder with you until every last light comes on," Duff said.
He encouraged residents to report any situations of price gouging. "One of my constituents told me a huge tree fell on a house, and a crane operator told the person last week the price was $6,000, but this week it was $20,000.
"Whether it's gas or food or crane operation, we will make sure that people follow the law, and that they're held accountable if they're not following the law," Duff said.
Stevenson urged residents to reach out to any friends or neighbors who might be vulnerable in the cold weather without power.
"We are aware of those who have significant need at this time," Stevenson said. "You can help be my eyes and ears to make sure we are paying careful attention to those who are in need."
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