This week will mark the one year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene, the storm that killed two Connecticut residents, swept seaside homes into the ocean, and left hundreds of thousands of people without power.
The storm that moved up the eastern seaboard and hit Connecticut on Aug. 28 last year had far reaching consequences. At its peak, the tropical storm saw close to a million utility customers in the dark. Some stayed without power for more than a week.
The public outcry led to several panels convened by both Gov. Dannel Malloy and lawmakers 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.
The storm also devastated some communities, particularly towns close to the Long Island Sound, where a storm surge hit the coast at high tide.
On Friday Rep. James Albis, a Democrat from East Haven, recalled the extensive damage in his town in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
“It was devastating, I don’t know how else to describe it,” he said. “We had 25 homes damaged beyond repair.”
Even now, Albis said many residents are still dealing with fallout of the storm. Some residents are still working through the process of rebuilding their homes. Others have chosen not to rebuild, he said. People are still dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, trying to access benefits. Others are working through insurance claim problems, he said.
“A year later and it’s still not completely resolved but our resilience will come through in the end,” Albis said.
He said that resilience was on display early on when residents formed a group to help others in the community, making sure they had food, water, and other supplies. Albis said the community bonded as a result of the storm.
But as time went on people became frustrated with the speed of the recovery effort, he said. Some remain frustrated, but Albis said it was important for folks to know that they can reach out to their elected representatives for help.
“We haven’t forgotten about you,” he said, adding that he’s still dealing with issues related to Irene on an almost daily basis.
Coastal communities weren’t the only ones frustrated last year. The storm brought down tree branches and power lines in towns all over the state. A week after Irene had come and gone, Malloy and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney visited the town of Sterling where most residents were still without power and feeling forgotten by CL&P.
“I think we’re looking for an apology from CL&P,” Sterling resident Darlene Gannon said. “And not in the form of where they’re going to donate $1 million to the Red Cross and we don’t have to pay a late fee. I think they need to acknowledge that they missed us.”
“Listen, I’m unhappy as you should be unhappy with the response of the utility companies,” Malloy told the crowd. “It’s been slow and hard. I certainly understand that. What I‘m committed to is making sure that we learn from this experience.”
Malloy commissioned a panel to conduct a review to make sure the state learned. But just two months later Connecticut was clobbered by a Nor’Easter. The heavy, wet snow which came earlier than expected took down trees, powerlines, and transmission lines across the state leaving many again without power for more than a week and frustrating local officials.
Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, said the most frustrating issue in both storms was a breakdown in communication between town officials and the utility companies. However, Dargan said both sides seemed to have learned from the experiences.
In July, Dargan said he participated statewide emergency drill organized by Malloy where local officials, first responders, and representatives of the utility companies were faced with a host of potential scenarios. Together they tried to work out solutions.
“It was interesting and it made all the participants think,” he said.
“We’ve learned a lot. I’m not going to say it will be perfect. If there’s a hurricane again there will be outages,” Dargan said, but next time everyone involved with be better equipped to deal with them.
It could have been worse.
A 2011 report from the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection found the maximum wind gust from Irene was 66 mph. The average maximum wind gust for the entire state was 52.3 mph and approximately 2 to 3 percent of trees within 50 feet of the center line of state roads were felled by the storm.
Things could have been much worse.
The report found that if it was a Category I hurricane an estimated 180,000 trees would fall resulting in approximately 150,000 trouble spots and nearly a complete outage of the state requiring 67 days for full restoration. The estimate assumes the same number of available line crews as Irene. If it were a Category III hurricane 420,000 trees would fall resulting in approximately 350,000 trouble spots and a 100 percent outage of the state requiring 157 days for full restoration.