Sunday, August 19News That Matters

Hundreds of Roads Impassable, Schools Closed, 90000 Without Power After Deadly Storm Hits Connecticut

More than 90,000 homes remain without power, scores of roads are impassable and schools are closed early Wednesday after a powerful and deadly chain of storms swept across Connecticut Tuesday evening. Hundreds of crews are continuing the lengthy effort to address the damage as weather officials investigate whether a tornado touched down in southwestern Connecticut.

Officials have little idea how long it will take to clean up the damage that has left some trapped in their homes. Officials in some towns hastily issued states of emergency not long after the storms passed.

At least two people were killed and three more injured when the storm swept through western Connecticut. In Danbury’s Candlewood Lake section, a man was killed after he took refuge from the storm in his truck and a tree fell on the vehicle, Mayor Mark Boughton said.

Responders had to use a boat to reach the man because roads were filled with fallen trees; by the time they reached the man, it was too late, Boughton said.

A state police spokeswoman said a tree fell on a car on Brush Hill Road in New Fairifield, killing one person.

Though more than 12 hours had past, nearly 90,000 power outages across much of western, central and southern Connecticut remained as people awoke Wednesday morning to take in the extent of the devestation.

Eversource officials said early Wednesday that they were bringing in crews from New Hampshire and across Massachusetts to assist the full complement of Connecticut-based crews. They said the company was also bringing in additional tree contractors to help safely clear roads.

“We are estimating a multiple-day restoration day here,” said Frank Poirot, a company spokesman. “With 84,000 people still without power, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

By early Wednesday, 17 state roads were closed for downed trees and power lines, a state Department of Transportation spokesman said. No interstates were blocked by Wednesday morning. Crews were working through the night on cleaning up where possible.

“It’s nothing that’s not manageable. We’ve had crews out around the state. There’s been different levels of impact as you move around the state,” said Kevin Nursick, a DOT spokesman.

Despite issues Tuesday, Metro-North said early Wednesday that it plans to run a normal schedule of trains through the day.

Earlier Tuesday, the National Weather Service issued tornado warnings – meaning a tornado was occurring or about to occur – in five of the state’s eight counties. The NWS will spend the next few days determining whether a tornado actually hit the state, or if it was simply a violent thunderstorm. Two residents of Brookfield, however, said they thought they saw the funnel of a tornado early Tuesday evening.

The damage was most severe in the Danbury region, the area of Cheshire, Hamden and the Naugatuck Valley, and state’s northeast corner. Eversource reported 108,000 Connecticut homes were without power Tuesday night.

In Danbury, a teen was badly injured when he was struck by the roof of a dugout on the baseball field at Henry Abbott Technical High School. Powerful winds apparently peeled the roof off the dugout, Boughton said.

“He’s banged up pretty good,” Boughton said. “It’s very serious.”

In Brookfield, a man and woman suffered nonlife threatening injuries when a tree fell on them while they were walking along the Still River Greenway, according to Brookfield First Selectman Stephen C. Dunn. The couple crawled to the nearby police station where they got first aid, but police officials said it took a long time to get them an ambulance.

“It’s a real mess,” Dunn said Tuesday night of the damage in Brookfield, which prompted him to declare a local emergency. “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it. There are literally hundreds of trees down, wires down, many roads are impassable. Most of our roads are impassable.”

By morning, Dunn said the situation remained dire. He said all of the roads in town had downed wires and that there was a citizen corps in some neighborhoods out with chainsaws to make roads passable.

Police officials said they have 160 personel from roughly 20 agenices in town to help, including the state’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, as well as emergency EMS and fire task forces. Many were out through the night checking on the well-being of residents trapped by the downed trees. The DOT dispatched six front-end loaders and three tree crews to help crews access areas of Brookfield, but officials said travel is limited and people should remain in their homes.

In Hamden, emergency crews found roads so impassable they resorted to using TV vehicles to respond to medical calls, Mayor Curt Leng said. “We are having many, many issues throughout town,” he wrote in an email. Busy Route 10 was closed in both directions, halting traffic through the morning rush hour.

In the northern part of Hamden, fallen trees trapped some residents in their homes and blocked off most of the roads. Many of the downed trees were entangled in wires that needed to be deactivated by utility companies, Leng said.

Cheshire police Chief Neil Dryfe said some of his officers ferried firefighters into a Hamden neighborhood in a police cruiser to respond to a propane leak, because the fallen trees and lines made bringing in a truck impossible.

Dryfe said about 20 streets were “totally impassable.”

“It’s as bad as I’ve seen it here since that October snowstorm five or six years back,” he said.

Gary Lessor, chief meteorologist at the Western Connecticut State University’s Weather Center, said two lines of powerful thunderstorms moved into Connecticut Tuesday afternoon. The arrived in Litchfield County about 3 p.m. and moved east toward Granby and Somers, where it weakened. On the way, it dropped damaging hail and rain, with strong winds.

At the height of the storm, 122,000 homes were without power.

A second line of storms moved across Danbury, Brookfield, New Fairfield, Newtown and Southbury and continued east, causing extensive tree and wind damage as it continued through the Naugatuck Valley and into Cheshire, Hamden and Wallingford.

East of Hartford, the storm fronts combined and moved into eastern Connecticut, causing damage as far east as Ashford, Pomfret, Woodstock, Plainfield, Lessor said.

Through the storm, some people in northern Connecticut reported seeing hail the size of baseballs — a rare occurence in Connecticut. A Norfolk man’s windshield was shattered in the process.

Bradley International Airport briefly grounded all flights after evacuating its Air Traffic Control Tower at around 4:30 p.m., but the airport reopened the tower a half-hour later and resumed flight operations.

Metro-North’s New Haven Line trains returned to a limited service with heavy delays at about 7:30 p.m. Fallen trees on the Waterbury and Danbury branches caused delays.

A Burlington policeman described the torrent that began there at about 5 p.m. as “biblical.”

“Absolutely pouring,” officer Thomas Null said. “The skies literally opened above us, huge rain drops falling all around.”

In the southwestern corner of the state, Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi declared a local emergency at 6 p.m., after the storm knocked down wires and trees — some of which slammed into homes.

“We have arcing wires everywhere in the road,” Marconi said in the evening.

The Danbury-Brookfield area were hit especially hard, and Brookfield resident Michael Zacchea said he felt something strike his car as he drove along Route 133.

He sought shelter at a nearby house, and took refuge under a garage overhang.

“Within about 10 yards of where I was standing, three trees went down,” Zacchea said. “In the back a tree went down, hit the house and stove-in the roof.”

The wind hurled branches and debris all around him.

“It sounded like a vacuum cleaning – just a huge whoosh and literally stuff flying,” he said.

As fast as the storm came, it was gone. “It only lasted for five minutes but it came so quickly,” he said. “All I could see was gray, dark gray, stuff flying.”

Courant staff writers David Owens, Mikaela Porter, Bill Leukhardt and Josh Kovner contributed reporting.

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