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Clearing Blocked Roads A Priority

Published: May 16, 2018

Local and state officials gathered for the first of two planned logistics meetings at Newtown’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at 10 am on May 16, roughly 15 hours after an intense storm battered the community, with heavy winds and rain bringing down many trees and utility lines resulting in many road closures.

At 12:02 pm Wednesday, Eversource was reporting more than 7,640 Newtown customers were still without power.

State Rep Mitch Bolinsky and Senator Tony Hwang were present at the EOC to hear concerns from fire, police, health and public works officials about areas of town that were still virtually inaccessible to residents and responders because of tangled electrical wires wrapped in downed trees.

Public Works Director Fred Hurley said overnight, his crews were able to make all roadways that were not blocked or compromised by electrical wires passable for cars — if only by a single narrow lane.

Police Sergeant Jeff Silver told The Newtown Bee that as of 9:30 am Wednesday, a fallen, apparently live electrical line across Berkshire Road (Route 34) near its eastern intersection with Chestnut Hill Road caused police to divert traffic. That blockage appears to be the top priority for clearing once Eversource “Make Safe” teams begin fanning out across town with DPW crews to tackle the hardest hit streets and neighborhoods.

A complicating factor with the Berkshire Road detour involved an old, low, narrow viaduct which carries railroad tracks over High Rock Road, which has insufficient clearance for tractor-trailer trucks to pass through. By Wednesday morning, Sgt Silver said local dispatchers had received hundreds of calls alerting them about travel problems throughout town.

In terms of the extensive storm damage, Sgt Silver said, “People have to be slow, watch for [downed] wires, and heed caution tape.” Police use such yellow caution tape when the encounter a problem to warn the public of the dangers it poses.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal spent the early part of the storm at the Police Department before touring the community with Police Chief James Viadero.

Mr Rosenthal reached out to residents soon after the storm cleared Tuesday evening, imploring residents to stop removing barriers and barricades and driving around them, as many were placed because of suspected live wires.

In one case, a motorist encountered a problem area posted with warning markers by police and then proceeded to “drive around “ that area, but then became entangled in utility lines, after which the driver left his vehicle, Sgt Silver said.

At one point near the end of the roughly 90-minute storm, all five fire companies were dispatched to a home on Lakeview Terrace for a reported structure fire. Many roads were still impassable at that time, slowing the response.

A group of firefighters and police officers ended up parking their vehicles as close as they could and walked in to the home, while Public Works crews feverishly worked to clear trees from the roadway. Upon arriving at the home, however, it was learned that there was a miscommunication with the homeowner — who reportedly had tried to report lines down near her home.

A few accidents were reported during the storm, including one on Berkshire Road just west of Lone Oak Meadows. A tree fell on a vehicle that had been traveling east at the time of the storm.

The driver was injured and transported to a hospital by Newtown Volunteer Ambulance. There was also a report of a pregnant woman in labor involved in a traffic collision on Interstate 84 near the Bethel Town line, but no further information was available on that incident.

Officials at the EOC meeting were arranging for Newtown High School to open for residents without water to use showers on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, from 5 am to 10 pm.  Residents should use the main entrance  at 12 Berkshire Roadto access the building’s showers.

NYA Sports & Fitness Center, 4 Primrose Street (within Fairfield Hills), is also available for showers and to charge electronic devices from 5:30 am to 8 pm. Residents who are not members are asked to check in at the registration desk.

Water to primarily be used for flushing toilets will be available to residents at each of the five local fire stations and the Parks & Rec maintenance garage at Wasserman Way and Trades Lane, adjacent to the Reed School. Senior Center staff members were performing door to door checks on elderly residents on Wednesday morning.

The senior center, 14 Riverside Road in Sandy Hook, is available for electronic charging weekdays from 8 am to 4:30 pm. The municipal center is open for electronic charging Wednesday until 8 pm. It will be open for the same on Thursday and Friday from 7 am to 5 pm.

C.H. Booth Library, at 25 Main Street, is open Wednesday and Thursday from 9:30 am to 8 pm, Friday from 11 am to 5 pm, Saturday from 9:30 am to 5 pm, and Sunday from noon to 5 pm with electronic charging stations and all regular services.

Anyone with medical issues, or who is compromised by health concerns, may contact Newtown Health District at 203-270-4291 for information and assistance.

The first selectman on Wednesday said he had signed an emergency declaration in anticipation of needing federal assistance to help underwrite clean-up costs. The town is holding off on establishing an overnight shelter, as no request for such assistance has been made yet, Mr Rosenthal said.

Police Chief James Viadero said he encountered a National Weather Service team in town Wednesday morning investigating the possibility that a tornado touched down at one or multiple points. Mr Hurley said the major swath of damage ran along the course of the Housatonic River from the northwest corner of town to the southeast.

The first selectman said as of noon Wednesday, Berkshire Road 34 at Chestnut Hill Road, Lakeview Terrace, Black Bridge Road at Walnut Tree Hill Road, Lower Pootatuck Park at Edgelake, and Currituck Road at Tunnel Road were all still impassable.  He said the order of priority is to first clear all roads for emergency vehicles before power restoration efforts begin.

Mr Rosenthal reminds residents to not use outside cooking equipment inside; to keep generator exhaust away from residences; and to stay away from power lines.

At noon Wednesday, Governor Dannel Malloy was in Brookfield surveying what was thought to be the hardest hit community in the area.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton reported a man was killed in the city Tuesday when a tree fell on the truck he had taken refuge in to escape the storm. A woman was also killed in New Fairfield when a tree struck her vehicle, but a child in the car was reportedly extricated without apparent injury.

Check back here, The Newtown Bee Facebook page or Twitter feed for immediate updates as the community continues recovery efforts. Associate Editor Shannon Hicks contributed to this story.


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