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Frustration Boiling Over in Wake of Hurricane Sandy Outages

It's been a rough few years for residents of Connecticut. Floods, snowstorms, hurricanes and whatever brand of hybrid "SuperStorm" Sandy morphed into have combined to fray the nerves of residents and town offiicials alike.

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!"

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