Towns brace for Hurricane Sandy

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Naugatuck public works employee John Shae rides in the back of a truck Monday morning on the Naugatuck Town Green. Shae along with Public Works Superintendent Robert Roland (driving the truck) drove along the Green removing American flags from lamp posts in anticipation of heavy winds from Hurricane Sandy. –LUKE MARSHALL

As gloomy skies hang overhead and the winds pick up, officials in Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, and Prospect are bracing for the impact of Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy is expected to bring heavy winds and rain intensifying throughout the day Monday until Tuesday night. Naugatuck and Region 16 schools have already closed for Monday and Tuesday and around the towns, emergency operations centers have opened.

“We’re actually on top of it. We feel pretty good,” said Beacon Falls First Selectman Gerard Smith Monday morning.

Smith said the town has opened an emergency operations center at the fire house and will open emergency shelters as needed, with the first being the senior center on North Main Street. He said the town has closed all the parks and is stocking food in case it has to open an emergency shelter.

Smith added that the town’s public work crews are working eight-hour spilt shifts around the clock until the event is over to help Connecticut Light & Power crews in the event of power outages.

Smith said residents can get updates on the town’s website, www.beaconfalls-ct.org, and the Code Red system.

In Naugatuck, officials are working out of an emergency operations center in the police department on Spring Street. Town offices and departments that do not have emergency management responsibilities are closed Monday, Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo said on his blog.

Mezzo declared a state of emergency on Sunday after consulting with the borough’s emergency management team. Declaring an emergency allows borough officials to waive bids for materials and seek state and federal assistance if needed.

Mezzo urged residents to remain inside during the height of the storm, avoid travel if at all possible, and be prepared for stream, street, and basement flooding along with the possibility of prolonged power outages.

Any decisions regarding the opening of emergency shelters will be made after assessing which schools have power and can accommodate overnight stays, Mezzo wrote. The borough will issue daily Code Red phone calls before 11 a.m. to inform residents of new developments and updates.  In the event of a massive loss of power, emergency management personnel will post memorandums with pertinent information at all of Naugatuck’s schools, Mezzo wrote.

Trash collection was suspended in the borough Monday and further decisions on future collection will be made on a daily basis, Mezzo wrote.

“We’re as ready as anyone’s going to be,” Prospect Mayor Bob Chatfield said.

Chatfield said CL&P and tree crews are standing by at the public works garage.

“We’re just waiting for the high winds,” Chatfield said.

Chatfield said the fire house on New Haven Road will be an emergency shelter if one is needed. He said the town will issue Code Red alerts throughout Monday to keep residents updated.

Chatfield also asked residents to take pictures of their yards or downed trees, after the storm is over, and send them into to his office at Town Hall so the Prospect Historical Society can document the storm.

As the shoreline braces for severe flooding, the concern around the Valley is high winds causing extensive and prolonged power outages.

Top officials from CL&P and United Illuminating declined to speculate on how long people may expect to lose electricity.

“I don’t even think I am going to estimate it right now. We have got to see what damage is done, how many people are out. I would hesitate to even put an estimate out today. I really don’t know,” said James Torgerson, president and CEO of UIL Holdings, the corporate parent of UI. “As the governor said, it is going to be a while, and I don’t know what a while is yet.”

“While we believe we are prepared, it is important that our customers and others understand that we can’t prevent these widespread outages,” said Bill Quinlan, senior vice president for emergency preparedness for CL&P.

The company is the state’s largest power distributor, with 1.2 million customers in 147 towns and cities. Quinlan said it will likely take several days before CL&P can get into bulk restoration. The priority initially will be dealing with life-threatening situations and clearing roads.

“We are also going to simultaneously perform our damage assessment and then we’ll begin to restore critical facilities,” he said.

Torgerson said UI anticipates that more than 70 percent of its 325,000 customers could lose power, mainly from flooding. It serves 17 communities in the greater New Haven and Bridgeport areas.

“We have seven substations that are along the coastline and we are very concerned that they will be flooded and that we will have to de-energize these substations, which will cause outages to our customers,” Torgerson said.

UI and CL&P will not dispatch line and tree crews until conditions are safe, meaning winds are less than 40 mph. Typically, it takes 24 to 48 hours to assess the damage done to the power distribution system and figure out what has happened.

Quinlan said CL&P anticipates dispatching crews Tuesday morning, based on the latest projections. Communications will be through its emergency operation center at its Berlin headquarters and 13 storm rooms across the state. Company officials are also coordinating with other subsidiaries of Northeast Utilities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, he said.

A total of 5,000 people in the field and in support roles are dedicated to storm recovery, CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross said. The company hopes to have 2,000 line workers to supplement CL&P’s complement of 400, he said. The invitation has drawn crews from as far away as Texas, British Columbia and Florida.

UI has also activated its emergency operations center. The company expects to have 290 line crews available and 170 tree crews, said Torgerson, who expects to have nearly 730 personnel on hand between line and tree crews, damage assessment teams and service groups.

“We are ready for the storm. Hopefully, it won’t be as bad as we are hearing, but we are preparing for the worst, and the worst scenario we have planned for is now being put in operation by our people,” Torgerson said.

Gov. Dannel Malloy said he expected to have 800 members of the National Guard on duty when the storm makes landfall.

The governor said forecasts indicate flooding poses the biggest risk at this time, particularly along Long Island Sound.

“The most significant threat we are facing now, right now, is the fact that we will be facing four high tides from the time the storm starts until it ends, with the worst one being late tomorrow night,” he said. “The amount of water the storm is expected to push into Long Island Sound is far more than the Sound shoreline can handle,” he said.

He said the state will see water surges akin to those of the 1938 hurricane. He urged people to heed evacuation orders or recommendations.

“If there is one small piece of good news in the weather forecast, it is that currently it does not appear that there will be a ton of rain associated with this event, but that won’t prevent the potential historic flooding along the waterfront or any rivers and streams that are affected by high tides,” Malloy said.

The governor once again urged people to stock up on food and water, prescription medicines, flashlights, batteries, gasoline and other supplies.

“There is still a chance that the storm could shift, but as every hour, as every moment passes that becomes far less likely,” he said.

Gross, the CL&P spokesman, said a year’s worth of reviews and analysis and a two-day hurricane drill in July involving emergency services throughout the state served to revamp storm procedures. The state’s Public Utility Regulatory Authority criticized the company’s “deficient and inadequate” response to the two storms in 2011.

“There will be better communication with customers and town and state officials and coordination,” Gross said. “For instance, when storm assessment teams get out there, they will be able to enter real time information into laptop computers that can be analyzed and be part of a restoration plan.”