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Weston picks up the pieces after Superstorm Sandy

Members of the National Guard and workers with CL&P climbed the trunk of this tree resting on utility lines on Briar Oak Drive, a scene that was replayed in countless other locations throughout town. —Gayle Weinstein photo

Last Tuesday, Oct. 30, all of Weston — 100% of Connecticut Light and Power’s 3,809 customers — was left in the dark thanks to Superstorm Sandy. This Tuesday, Nov. 6, only about 50 people still had no power.

What happened during that week was eerily familiar, while still being a situation like no other. 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene and October snow storm knocked out power for equally long stretches, but the number of road blockages and trees down was about half what it was with Sandy. Slow restoration seemed to be due to CL&P’s incompetence. This time around, CL&P stepped up, but simply couldn’t keep up.

The swath of destruction left by Sandy was not as catastrophic as it was a bit to the south, where entire towns and neighborhoods along the Jersey shore were leveled, and New York City still faces unprecedented blackouts and flooding.

But in Weston, the road blockages and power outages were among the worst in the state.

“The whole town was decimated,” First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said. “People don’t fully understand the extent of the damage” and just what clean-up crews were having to deal with before power restoration could even be attempted, she said. “I can’t entirely fault CL&P” for how long it took to fully restore power, she added.

There were 220 road blockages, and literally hundreds more trees that fell across driveways and on private and town property.

The storm hit on Monday night. By Tuesday, rail service throughout Connecticut and New York was halted. Access into and out of Weston was nearly impossible. No one had electricity, Internet, TV, or phone service — although many had cell service or were at least able to text. Because just about everyone in town has a private well, no power meant no water.

Weston schools closed all week. It was clear early on that it would take at least that long to make roads passable for anyone — and for school to open, a majority of them had to have at least a 10-foot clearance to allow buses through. By Sunday, it was determined school would not resume until Wednesday, Oct. 7.

In the mean time, the town did what it could to communicate with residents and to offer services and amenities.

CodeRed Alerts went out by phone, text, and email, and were oosted on the town website at least twice a day. Messages were also posted at town hall, the library, the schools, and Weston Center.

In addition, the police did door-to-door welfare checks.

Comfort

A comfort station was opened Tuesday, Oct. 30,  at Weston Middle School because there were issues with power restoration at the high school.

Those issues were resolved by the next day, and the comfort station opened there instead, offering a more comfortable comfort station, including private shower facilities and hot food served by  the school district’s food service company.

Most people used the comfort station — as well as the library, which was open extra hours all week and through the weekend — for charging phones and electronic devices.

Karen Tatarka, director of the Weston Public Library, said more than twice as many people as normal came to the library during the power outage. While there are usually about 250 visitors a day at the library, there were 700 on Wednesday, 750 on Thursday, and about 500 on both Friday and Saturday.

Also notable, she said, was the fact that many people were checking out DVDs from the library. She attributes that to many having purchased generators since last year’s round of storms.

The town also offered several diversions to help people get their minds off the situation. Children’s movies were shown at the high school. A highly successful Trunk-or-Treat event was put on at intermediate school on Saturday night, taking the place of neighborhood trick-or-treating on Wednesday — Halloween — since roads were still dangerous at that time.

Gimme shelter

As temperatures began to drop later in the week, the high school remained opened as an emergency overnight shelter on Thursday and Friday nights.

Ms. Weinstein said only three or four people took advantage of it those nights, and so on Saturday night, town officials recommended instead that people use regional shelters in Ridgefield or Norwalk if they needed the.

But the overnight shelter re-opened in Weston on Sunday night as temperatures continued to drop. The town allowed pets in crates — even providing crates if people needed them — hoping to get some people who were simply unwilling to leave their pets alone. About eight people slept overnight Sunday.

By Monday night, the number of people without power had dropped to about 16% of the town (about 650 people), and so only the comfort station remained open.

Even though that number fell to 1% — about 50 people — on Tuesday night, the comfort station remained open until 8 p.m.

Power restoration

Once it began power restoration efforts on Tuesday evening, Oct. 30, CL&P steadily chipped away at the outage numbers over the following seven days.

Tuesday night, it dropped from 100% out to 96%. Wednesday, it fell slightly to 93% out. Thursday morning, 80% were still out; by Thursday night, it was back up to 84%. Thursday was the day the National Guard came to town to help with clean-up efforts.

On Friday morning, Nov. 2, 62% of the town was still powerless, but that jumped back up to 77% by day’s end.

More power was restored overnight, though, and 60% had no power Saturday morning. On Sunday, it was down to 54%, and CL&P estimated restoration would be substantially complete in town by Tuesday night.

Monday, Nov. 5, was cold and windy. The day began with about 24% — just under 1,000 people — without power and ended with just 16%.

By Tuesday night, the number of people without power was negligible, at fewer than 70.

With things getting back to normal this week, the first selectman had high praise for residents, emergency responders, town employees, and the hundreds of volunteers who stepped up during the crisis.

Ms. Weinstein said, “I do need to thank the residents of Weston for their incredible patience, and more importantly, the spirit of volunteerism this past week. Weston truly is a ‘small town with a big heart.’”

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