Of the 100 or so people who stayed at the makeshift shelter at the East Hartford Town Hall Sunday night, a few stragglers were charging their cell phones and enjoying the warmth on Monday morning.
Town hall was opened over the weekend to accommodate residents who lost power as a result of this weekend’s snowstorm, which left more than 800,000 in Connecticut without power. On Monday, officials were directing residents to a nearby shelter in South Windsor so the town could operate in the building. But the hallways and open spaces were still crowded with green cots and pillows.
Some arrived that morning to warm up.
Marvin Goodstein said he roughed out the weekend at his home but came to the town hall to charge his phone, drink a warm cup of coffee and hopefully get a bite to eat.
“Breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said of the three granola bars he was given.
Goodstein said the granola bars were the first thing he’d had to eat since sometime on Sunday. He said his power lasted until about 4 p.m. Saturday. He woke up to bad news Sunday morning.
“I found half a tree on my car. It took out my windshield,” he said.
Nathaniel Sims said he came to the town hall to charge his cell phone as well. He said he lost power to his home at around 6 p.m. but it had been blinking on and off for some time before that.
“I knew something was going to happen. I had a load of clothes in the washer and they’re still in there,” he said.
He said he spent the morning sort of wandering around East Hartford, trying to find a place where he could take a shower or get some hot food. Sims said later in the day he planned to take the remaining food he had in his refrigerator and cook it on a barbecue at his brother’s house before it went bad.
Since the storm it has been tough to find food, he said. He waited almost an hour and a half to order at a Chinese restaurant on Sunday, he said. The food was cold by the time he got it home to his son and girlfriend but it was one of the few businesses in town with electricity.
The damage he saw around town was astonishing.
“It was like a war or something” he said.
U.S. Rep. John Larson agreed. Larson, who lives in town, visited the town hall Sunday night and again Monday.
Travel was treacherous, he said. He said he saw downed wires and branches littering the roads all over town.
“This makes Irene look like a rain storm,” he said.
Larson said when he visited the town hall Monday with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, he found the residents there mostly in good spirits despite the situation. But some were frustrated by the outage.
Antonita Dunbar said she stayed at her home Sunday night wrapped in four blankets, but still felt cold. She said she didn’t know what she would do for the next few nights. Dunbar said she couldn’t understand why there were few trees down near her home but still the power company had not restored her electricity.
“I’ve lived here since 1997. This is the first time I’ve seen this happen for this long,” she said.
She said she lives by herself and because of a physical disability it’s difficult for her to get out of the house and find food. She suggested that elected officials like Larson and Blumenthal need to do more to pressure the utility companies to restore power faster.
Others at town hall had concerns not only about finding food but money to pay for it. Some questioned whether the Department of Labor would still be paying out unemployment benefits if the power is out.
Labor Department spokeswoman Nancy Steffens said the department has a building running on generator power and is still making the payments.
With Connecticut Light and Power estimating it could be more than a week before power is completely restored, Larson said it’s important for people to help others out if they can.
“I hope the message gets out there for people to help their neighbor. If ever there was a time to help your neighbor, well this is it,” he said.