On the eve of the one year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy toured a coastal neighborhood that had been devastated by the storm, calling the progress that’s been made there “pretty darn impressive.”
The storm traveled up the eastern seaboard and hit Connecticut on Aug. 28 last year. In addition to knocking out power for hundreds of thousands of residents, the storm devastated many communities, particularly those close to Long Island Sound where the storm surge hit the coast at high tide.
East Haven’s Cosey Beach neighborhood was one of the hardest hit communities and it was there that the governor and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman traveled on the day after the storm. Though there’s still a lot of work to do — 25 East Haven homes were destroyed in the storm — Malloy said the neighborhood has come a long way over the past year.
“From some of the newspaper accounts that I’ve read over the last few days . . . you might have thought that not as much progress has been made. Listen, Connecticut people are pretty tough, they’re pretty resilient. If they have the wherewithal, they come back,” Malloy said.
The governor acknowledged that some of the people who lost their homes to the storm have chosen not to rebuild, something he said is understandable given the trauma they experienced. Still, Malloy seemed pleased as he surveyed the repairs under way on various houses.
“When I was here a year ago a lot of this was underwater still. So people have found a way,” he said.
Malloy said he was most encouraged to see homeowners who’ve opted to replace their foundations and raise their houses up on stilts. Structures that were on stilts during Irene fared better because wave energy dissipated beneath the buildings.
“Let’s be honest, many of these houses are right there. We’re talking about 50 feet of sand between them and the ocean. So clearly, moving back when it’s possible, moving up when it’s not — combining both of those things are the best thing to do and we’re seeing a whole bunch of people do it,” Malloy said.
Not everyone can afford to rebuild, however. Andy Weinstein and his daughter, Shayna, stopped by their old neighborhood to shake hands with the governor. But Weinstein, whose house was destroyed, said rebuilding was cost prohibitive.
“The storm took our house on what was supposed to be her sweet 16th birthday,” Weinstein said of his daughter.
State Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who was in Florida Monday for the Republican National Convention, said he visited Cosey Beach last week and said there’s a lot of work to be done before the neighborhood is fully recovered.
Not everyone is having an easy time of it.
Some of the homeowners who have chosen to rebuild have run into trouble with their property insurance companies, Fasano said. Carriers are giving policyholders mixed signals as to which policies cover the damage to their homes.
Some companies have told owners the damage was done to their homes by wind, so it should be covered by wind insurance. Meanwhile, wind insurance carriers have told some owners the damage was caused by flooding and should be covered by flood insurance, he said.
“I think people are still struggling and I think there are still high emotions,” Fasano said.
Malloy said if there continues to be a specific problem with insurance companies, the state Insurance Department may be able to address it.
“If there are disputes, our department will look at them, we’ll make evaluations. If there are appropriate pressures to be brought, we’ll apply it,” Malloy said, adding that there are always two sides to insurance disputes.
Insurance Commissioner Thomas B. Leonardi attended the tour to hear from residents.
Malloy and Fasano agreed that after a year that saw Irene and a devastating October snowstorm, the state is better equipped to deal with weather emergencies and long-term power outages.
The outages caused officials to convene several panels to assess the preparedness of utility providers like Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating. The recommendations of those panels ultimately led to legislation that set performance standards for utility companies and gave regulators the ability to impose penalties if those standards are not met.
In July, Malloy also organized a statewide emergency drill where local officials, first responders, and representatives of the utility companies were faced with a host of potential scenarios. Malloy said the state learned many things about its strengths and weaknesses during the four-day drill.
“We’re trying to document every lesson learned from the two storms and every lesson that we learned from the drill and we move forward. This is about ever-improving your readiness, you’re preparation, and your ability to respond,” the governor said.
Fasano said he felt that residents also are more aware now of the dangers presented by a large storm and what they can do to better protect their property.
“I think there’s an awareness there now that was more lackadaisical before the storm,” he said.
This week, Fasano found himself facing the prospect of another hurricane as he arrived in Tampa for the Republican National Convention. The first day of the RNC was largely postponed Monday as Tropical Storm Isaac made its way into the Gulf of Mexico.
Fasano said it was a little weird dealing with another storm so close to Irene’s anniversary, especially given some similarities between the two storms.
“Both began with ‘I’s,’ both spawned on almost the same day, in the same location, and had the same path originally,” he said of Irene and Isaac.
In early afternoon, Fasano said the storm appeared to be passing by Tampa, where the convention was taking place. The sun was struggling to shine through between waves of heavy wind and rain, he said.
Back at Cosey Beach, Malloy, along with a handful of state, local, and federal officials, also were facing some foreboding weather. Aside from some sporadic rain drops, the dark clouds threatening to dump rain on East Haven held off for most of Malloy’s tour.
That is until the group and the throng of reporters walking with them made it back to the parking lot where the tour started. Then the sky opened up and everyone ran for cover.
“You know what they’re going to say? We have a governor who doesn’t know how to get out of the rain,” Malloy joked.