Hugh McQuaid photo
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in the Emergency Operations Center (Hugh McQuaid photo)

Early estimates show that the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy is “substantially larger” than the damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday.

At his last briefing of the day, Malloy said the storm partially or fully destroyed buildings and homes in Milford, East Haven, East Lyme, Old Saybrook, and caused flood damage to buildings in Bridgeport, contributed to fires that spread to three homes in Greenwich and two in Old Saybrook, and that’s just the beginning.

“The damage is far more extensive up and down the coast . . . Seawalls were actually destroyed as well,” Malloy said adding that a full damage assessment has yet to be completed.

After two phone conversations with President Barack Obama on Tuesday, Malloy said he was able to get a Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster declaration for Fairfield, Middlesex, New Haven, and New London counties, including the two tribal nations.

The declaration makes federal funding available to the state for debris removal and emergency protective measures. For homeowners and businesses in the four counties the FEMA declaration includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help them recover from the effects of the disaster.

Malloy toured the damage by car Tuesday, but he said he viewed aerial footage taken by the National Guard and determined the damage was more widespread than it was during Irene.

“It was bad, really bad, as I was quoted saying it would be. But it could have been a lot worse,” Malloy said.

He said those residents who live right on the water listened better than those who lived further away on streets that experienced unprecedented flooding. They listened better than they did during Irene, Malloy said.

But a woman in Greenwich with whom he spoke Tuesday didn’t heed his warning to leave and, as a result, lost two vehicles when her property flooded.

“She told me I had done a wonderful job communicating what steps people should take to make sure they were safe. Then she told me she ignored that,” Malloy said. “Human nature is tough.”

“We took the steps necessary to save people’s lives,” Malloy said when asked if he was overzealous in warning people.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman consoled homeowners in East Lyme and Old Saybrook Tuesday. Homeowners who lost their mother’s home cried as they spoke to Wyman.

“The wind can not blow the memories away,” Wyman told the woman.

Melissa Ozols photo
Chalker Beach in Old Saybrook (Melissa Ozols photo)

A fire destroyed two homes near Chalker Beach in Old Saybrook.

“It’s pretty sad for a fire chief when you have a fire and all you can do to get there is wait,” Old Saybrook Fire Chief J.T. Dunn said as he toured the damage with Wyman.

Wyman assured the shoreline communities that Connecticut residents are resilient and will get through this.

As the state enters the second day of damage assessment, the two utilities had about 560,000 customers still in the dark and restoration efforts were just beginning to get underway. Neither utility was able to give an estimate as to when their customers would be restored.

As Malloy toured the state Tuesday to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy — he called United Illuminating’s de-energization and subsequent re-powering of substations in Bridgeport — an important victory.

As the Pequonnock River began to rise Monday night the company cut power to its Congress Street substations, effectively killing the electricity to about 40,000 Bridgeport customers.

Photo courtesy of UI
Congress Street Substation in Bridgeport at the height of the storm surge (Photo courtesy of UI)

But in de-energizing the substations, UI CEO James Torgerson said the company avoided significant and long-term damage to the components inside.

“Picture a hair dryer going into a tub. It’s turned on, and especially with salt water, it’s not a good combination,” Torgerson said.

The two substations at the Congress Street location take in 115,000 volts and step it down to 13,800 volts. They were de-energized at around 6:30 Monday night and back online at around 10 Tuesday morning.

Torgerson and UI Vice President John Prete said the two substations, one built in the 1960s and the other around 15 years ago, were built above a 100-year flood plus an additional foot.

Still, the facilities came perilously close to flooding earlier Monday at a midday high tide. Before the second high tide, water levels seemed poised to breach the doors where sandbags had been placed. Torgerson said it never quite got that high, but the decision was made to cut the substations’ power.

He said a National Guard vehicle was used to get UI personnel into the flooded area to shut them off.

Malloy toured the outside of the gated facilities Tuesday after the water had receded.

“Listen, you have my permission to raise these,” he joked with the utility executives.

Malloy said it was prudent move to power down the substations.

“This facility was up and running pretty quickly. This is a success right here,” he said.

But Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said the substations aren’t the only electrical issues the state’s largest city is facing after the storm. Two of the four trunk lines, or feeds, in the city are down and may take quite some time to repair, he said.

“The distribution system is broken in lots of places,” Finch said.

At it’s peak Bridgeport saw about 50,000 of its residents in the dark. According to United Illuminating’s outage map, a little more than 38,000 were still without power as of 4:30 p.m. Finch said customers are being re-energized as utility workers slowly trace the system and find where its broken.

“We’ll hobble along in this city for however long a period of time we need to,” Finch said.

Bridgeport residents were largely compliant with evacuation orders on Monday, he said. Officials and volunteers made three sweeps of the flood areas throughout the day. About 800 people relocated to shelters. Others went to stay with friends and family, Finch said.

The state begin to get back to normal over the next few days as power is restored.

Malloy asked all state employees to return to work Wednesday for their regular shifts. 

Melissa Ozols contributed to this report.