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Increasing frustrations expressed by residents to First Selectman Dan Rosenthal and State Representative Mitch Bolinsky over the pace of power restoration and road clearing were mirrored by those and other officials at an Emergency Operations meeting at 10 am Friday, May 18.
While the total community outage dipped to 41 percent by 11:30 am Friday, the first selectman, Public Works Director Fred Hurley, Newtown Police officials, and Rep Bolinsky all indicated that Eversource, the local electric utility, needed to get more resources into the town specifically to handle line work.
Director of Parks Carl Samuelson, who attended the emergency meeting, expressed concern for “vigilante chainsaw crews,” who he feared were assuming by now that lines tangled in trees blocking roads were not energized, and so they were safe to cut.
But Mr Rosenthal feared that if an adjacent homeowner fired up a generator and a back current was generated, it could send enough power through adjacent lines to electrocute a person. Several emergency management and town department leaders continued to express frustration over residents and travelers continuing to remove barriers and warning tape blocking roads that may appear partially clear, but could still be dangerous due to downed or low-hanging wires.
Mr Rosenthal said he was also receiving an increasing number of calls from residents who noted that trees on certain wires were beginning to dip lower to the ground, weighing down already strained utility wires and adjacent poles.
All this information was transmitted to an Eversource liaison working directly with the local emergency management team, who continued to relay that information to utility managers and decision-makers coordinating tree and line crew response from outside of Newtown.
Local police sent up a drone aircraft capturing two dramatic videos in the Cedarhurst lakeside community showing huge swaths of trees above Lake Zoar flattened as though a bomb blast had occurred. Click here to view videos.
Police Chief James Viadero was on the ground in that area late Thursday and described what he saw as “catastrophic.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” the veteran law enforcement official remarked.
Parks & Rec crews continued with their roving patrols distributing bottled drinking water in hard-hit neighborhoods whose lack of power disabled well pumps, and police patrol officers were loading up additional bottled water supplies to distribute as they worked throughout the day Friday.
Public Works crews worked until 11 pm Thursday evening, continuing to try as best they could to clear trees impacting roadway passage, but had to stop because they could do little more without accompanying line crews making downed and tangled electrical lines safe. Mr Hurley also commented that neither he nor Newtown has ever seen the quantity of wood debris from a storm at any time in his 40-plus years working in the public works field.
“The quantity of wood debris is staggering,” he said. “We had to bring in a logging truck with a boom [crane] just to help clear logs from blocked roads.”
Mr Rosenthal’s major complaint to utilities is that storm damage is mainly confined to just a comparatively few communities, versus statewide damage from recent winter storms. He was unwilling to accept the estimated restoration projection of noon Sunday from Eversource.
“Why are we not working around the clock? A five-day outage is unacceptable,” he said.
Mr Hurley noted that passersby and residents could not know the difference between electric wires and phone or cable television lines, so driving or walking near them was a great concern to both residents and local officials.
“There seems to be an issue with the utilities coordinating together,” he said of Charter Cable and Frontier telecommunications crews. He added that Newtown public works crews would be out Friday with heavy earth moving equipment to try and expedite the clearing of the heaviest debris.
At 10 am Friday, 57 local roads were still partially or fully impassible, and there were numerous areas where residents still could not get out to the road from interior lots.
Health District and Deputy Emergency Management Director Donna Culbert said her office continued to monitor residents who had health issues and required power for medical equipment. There was a particular concern about a resident who had a propane powered generator, but their vendor was unable to drive across downed wires to refill their propane tank.
Landfill Weekend Hours
Mr Hurley advised residents who are able to bring brush only to the town landfill to do so, and they would not be charged. However, the landfill would have to charge for large trees and branches for the time being. That said, Mr Rosenthal authorized the landfill to be open Saturday, May 19, from 7 am to 6 pm, and Sunday, May 20, from 7 am to 3 pm.
Officials were also working on a location for residents and contractors to be able to jettison larger trees and limbs, and were in the early stages of organizing plans for roadside tree and brush removal based on required Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines. This planning is important, Mr Hurley explained, so the town could receive possible reimbursement for the cleanup versus the expense falling on local taxpayers.
Mr Rosenthal said he has been in touch with Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty and Senator Chris Murphy to get assistance in coordinating on the initial FEMA applications for assistance.
Building Inspector John Poeltl and Mr Samuelson took a boat out along lakeside properties Friday morning to survey homes and seasonal cottages that may have been damaged, but were inaccessible from the road. Mr Samuelson observed that buildings closest to the lakeside appeared to suffer less damage than those further up on hillsides, possibly because the force of the macroburst downdrafts were more intense at higher elevations.
Newtown Underwater Search & Rescue (NUSAR) teams were also out on the water tagging docks corresponding to the level of damage to adjacent homes they observed, Mr Poeltl said.
A representative from the All Star bus company was on hand and said a preliminary canvass of school bus routes revealed that there was still a significant amount of work to do before buses could roll next week. A decision about opening or closing schools on Monday has yet to be made.
Police officials said that local traffic that was being impeded by state DOT construction work on Church Hill and Commerce Roads, and on South Main Street at upper Pecks Lane may see some relief as early as later Friday, as they were trying to get that construction work moved into evening hours.
Storm spoiled food dumpsters were open and available at Newtown High School and at the Dodgingtown and Hawleyville fire stations, and water for flushing and drinking was available at all five local fire stations, officials affirmed.