Still Recovering After Irene

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By WXedge Staff on November 4, 2011, 12:00am

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It was a two pronged attack. A week ago a rare autumn nor'easter decimates Connecticut with people still reeling from Irene's wrath.

The heavy snow shut down most of the state, leaving a much bigger imprint than Irene. More than 800,000 utility customers were in the dark. It still impacts people even today. Now once again on the hot seat, utility companies are working feverishly to restore power.

It is a familiar scene. In late August a wave of destruction swept through as Irene pounded communities along the Sound. Gale-force winds and rapidly rising waters splintered houses dotting a stretch of flood-prone Cosey Beach in East Haven. Weary property owners are left with putting the pieces back together again.

Mark Acevedo and wife Linda own five rental houses heavily damaged by Irene.

"It created approximately a $75,000 to $80,000 project we have going on in this particular house," Mark said.

Mark has taken on the renovation project.

"The insurance covers up to four feet. So we took four feet of sheet rock, cut it all out and took all the insulation out and the bottom of the house and up inside walls, all through the basement, mitigating the mold."

Hurricane proof windows are now in place.

"Wind-wise, (the house) would withstand better because of the windows," he said. "If someone would stay overnight, insulation-wise it would be better. The drainage would be a little bit better but it really wouldn't solve the whole entire problem unless the house was raised up to 14 feet."

But there's no money for that.

"I was very naive in thinking that the insurance company would write you out a check and you would be able to go about your business," Linda Acevedo said.

A reality check thanks to Irene. Flood and hazard insurance did not entitle them to replacement cost.

"No, because we are a business and so we are treated as a business," Linda said.

Two towns away, a dubious sign hangs on the door of the Stone House Restaurant in Guilford. It has a running tab of a half million dollars in damage. And counting.

"We are changing some of our building materials," co-owner Peter Hamme said. "Our wood walls seem to fair better than our drywall and so where we can change that we are."

Hamme says they are working to fortify the restaurant to better withstand the next Irene.

"We're raising our compressors up on platforms two to three feet high, above the flood line," he said. Electrical boxes also."

A thorough assessment uncovered more faults. Cracks in the exterior walls.

"There was another crack and another crack and you can see it again on the roof line," Hamme said as he pointed out the damage. "It shifted. Not much, but a little."

An extensive facelift is underway with Peter also pointing to insurance as the biggest obstacle. Equally as challenging is hanging onto employees.

"We're trying to hold on and keep them paid so they don't have to go to unemployment or find another job. We're covered for that, but then again we haven't seen that money."

Back on Cosey Beach, helping hands are making it a bit easier to stomach the chaos Irene left behind.

"After Irene, I was just in shock," Phylicia Slocum said. "I walked down the street and there were houses gone that I had known to be there forever and families just devastated, crying."

Slocum's home was barely touched by Irene.

"We were pretty prepared. We had our windows boarded up, we had food and necessities, but you never know what will happen. Our house could have easily been taken out also."

That possibility motivated her to team up with Shawn Hopkinson.

"It went from a few cases of water, some chips, Italian ice to full blown three course meals."

Hours after Irene moved on, where Shawn set up a tent, donations of necessities and money came pouring in.

"One of the families, they only got the money for half of their furnace," Shawn said. "So we wrote a check for the other half of their furnace."

Phylicia and Shawn are now looking to organize a volunteer core group of people helping people.

"A volunteer core group of fellow East Haveners, and we would just spring into action anytime there is any national disaster or community events where we are needed," Shawn said. "Pretty much, just to try and restore a sense of community here in East Haven."

It was not just the immediate shoreline where the storm led to turbulence. No power for thousands of customers -- including entire towns -- led to frustration aimed at the major utility companies. The challenge is restoring power to so many.

"Calls were made well in advance of the storm," Connecticut Light & Power spokesman Mitch Gross said. "We had commitments for approximately 800 crews before Irene arrived. As it turned out they all could not honor their commitments."

"The challenge this time around was that the path of the storm was along the Eastern Seaboard so therefore companies and crews we usually reached out to had a difficult time releasing those crews to come and assist us in Connecticut," said Michael West, a spokesman

for United Illuminating.

But in an age of instant information customers were left in the dark with unanswered questions.

"It's a matter of putting systems in place so we can react quicker and speed is of the essence," Gross said.

According to West, UI has "committed to spending $15 million over the next three years, investing in new technology to try to do just that."

Lessons learned and applied as the focus turns to the aftermath of a pulverising Nor'Easter with a stronger wrath than Irene. More downed trees and powerlines led to more cries of help. The priority? restoring city and town centers where essentials like gasoline and food could be accessed.

Closer communication with local governments and restoration timelines were put in place to keep people informed. But cracks in the system raised tough questions, with the number of crews on the ground at the top of the list.

"The challenge is, how do we get 'em here sooner after the event," CL&P President and COO Jeff Butler said October 2nd. "That is the challenge. You know, it would have been nice to have 600 line crews here on Monday, not Wednesday. So, we are getting the crews, we continue to get crews, it's how do we get em here sooner to support restoration."

Little comfort for those desperate for relief. As Gov. Dannel Malloy toured a shelter in Windsor Oct. 1st a man yelled out "when do I go home".

The Stone House in Guilford hopes to re-open in early December.

As for Linda and Mark Acevedo, "eventually I will get money from the insurance company," Linda said, "it's just a matter of when."

Mark said they've done all they can after Irene to get ready for the next one.

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WXedge Staff

Town: New Haven, CT  

Reporting for WXedge since February 2012.

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