Snow topples buildings, provokes evacuations

Snow on the roof of this vacant building at 1198 New Haven Road in Naugatuck caused the roof to collapse Jan. 20. The borough has issued a notice to demolish the building, according to the Building Department.

Heavy snow and ice on roofs caused havoc across the area following a two-punch storm last week.

The weight of the snow on some roofs led to building collapses across the area as well as several evacuations.

Students were sent home early from Naugatuck High School Feb. 3 due to structural concerns, after officials noticed a crack in an exterior wall of the school.

Over the weekend, about 500-600 people cleared about 185,000 square feet of snow off the roof.

“The operation there at the high school was massive,” Mezzo said.

The town called in about 300 members of the Connecticut National Guard in addition to contractors, town employees, and volunteers, Mezzo said.

The whole thing had to be cleared by hand because solar panels prevented them from using heavy machinery, Mezzo said.

In addition to the high school, the town cleared the roofs 11 other buildings, mostly other schools.

There was no structural damage to any of the town buildings, but the average 16 to 20 inches of snow accumulation would start to reach their maximum recommended load limits if another storm dumped additional weight on the roofs, according to Mezzo.

Although the town hasn’t gotten all the invoices for the operation yet, Mezzo said he expects the price tag to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Even though the sum is large, it pales in comparison to the priceless value of lives and other assets being protected, Mezzo said.

The town has never had to shovel the high school roof before and hopefully won’t have to again, Mezzo said.

Nearly all the buildings were completed by Monday morning, Mezzo said. Naugatuck schools were canceled Friday and delayed Monday morning so snow could be removed from school roofs.

Mezzo said he wanted to thank the Connecticut National Guard, many of whom were combat veterans with other full-time jobs, for providing assistance when the town really needed it.

“We were honored to have them here,” Mezzo said.

He said the high school cafeteria staff also helped to feed the hundreds of people working on the roof.

“I don’t think anyone can truly appreciate the magnitude of the operation that took place over the weekend unless they witnessed it themselves,” Mezzo said.

While the high school suffered no structural damage, other buildings in the borough weren’t so lucky.

The roof failures started in Naugatuck at 6:43 a.m. Feb. 3 when a garage on the corner of Arch Street and Scott Street collapsed with a car inside, Lt. Robert Harrison said.

Just two hours later, at 8:43 a.m., another garage on the corner of Spring Street and Anderson Street was pushed over because it was severely sagging and about to fall on its own, Harrison said.

At 8:56 a.m., Wal-Mart, located at 1100 New Haven Road, was closed. Police assisted in an evacuation after people heard creaking sounds and there was concern about the roof and ceiling, Harrison said.

Just a few minutes later, at 9:05 a.m., a small part of the roof of an older section of the Thurston Oil building on Rubber Avenue collapsed, Harrison said. The company installed temporary offices on site and continued their services without interruption, Mezzo said.

Around 11 a.m., the Howard-Whittemore Library was evacuated when people heard creaks in the roof, according to reports.

The Rainbowland Nursery School at 1210 New Haven Road was also evacuated Feb. 3, Harrison said.

No one was caught inside the collapsed buildings or injured, according Harrison.

Mezzo declared a state of emergency Feb. 3 in response to snow problems across the borough.

By declaring a state of emergency, the borough is in a better position to request and receive state and federal assistance. It also makes it easier for the town to respond quickly to engage private contracts outside the bidding process to get the job done, Mezzo said. The state of emergency ended Feb. 8 after crews finished clearing Hop Brook Elementary School.

Although Feb. 3 was the worst day in the borough, another building collapsed on Sunday. Tom Britton, operating manager of Advantage Sheet Metal Manufacturing, noticed one of the company’s buildings caved in as he was leaving Cumberland Farms.

The building, which was built in the 1970s, was fine when workers left Saturday evening, so the collapse probably happened overnight, said company owner John Hare.

The building is semicircular and snow had piled around its edges, leading company officials to believe snow was slipping off the roof on its own.

“If you would ask me, I’d say that was the last building I would be concerned about,” Hare said. “Everyone’s scratching their heads.”

The building has been posted as unsafe and will be demolished within 30 days, according to Building Inspector Bill Herzman’s report.

The collapse caused water damage to the machinery and sheets of metal inside, which will likely be destroyed during demolition.

Prospect and Beacon Falls had their own problems with the heavy white stuff.

Firefighters responded Tuesday morning to a collapse of a two-car garage on Bronson Road, officials said.

Mayor Robert J. Chatfield, who is the fire department’s day commander, said there were no injuries. Firefighters found the flat roof had caved in and the garage’s sides bowed out, he said.

Beams came down onto three vintage Chevrolets, and other equipment, he said.

Chatfield said that two rafters of a Prospect home snapped in half Feb. 2 from the weight of snow on the roof.

He said a contractor sheered up the roof, and the couple that lives in the house were able to stay in their home.

The Prospect Fire Department responded to the scene of a barn collapse in Bethany on Wednesday as well, Chatfield added. He said the department assisted on the scene for nearly five hours.

In Beacon Falls, workers were evacuated from Oce Imagestics Inc. at 8 Railroad Avenue Ext. late last week after workers heard a portion of the roof cracking, officials said.

The Republican American contributed to this report.