NEW HAVEN, CT – Officials planned to mark the five-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, but this past weekend’s powerful storm made Tuesday’s event in New Haven even more timely.
A slew of state and New Haven officials held a press conference at the New Haven Brewer Square Bulkhead Rehabilitation Project on River and Ferry streets to trumpet Connecticut’s readiness if a major storm such as Sandy came the state’s way.
“Five years ago many of us, actually 650,000 of us in fact, were still without electricity and 3,000 homes were damaged – some beyond recognition along the coastline and some inland in Connecticut,” Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne M. Klein said.
“Sadly six people lost their lives in what was the worst storm in 60 years,” Klein said. “Sandy served as a wake up call for Connecticut. She told us that we needed to do more to protect lives, to protect homes, to invest in our infrastructure and grow Connecticut’s economy.”
This past weekend’s storm, eerily falling almost exactly five years after Sandy, saw over 160,000 homes without power at its peak.
As of Wednesday morning, there were still nearly 19,000 people people across the state without power, according to Eversource.
The storm saw winds with 65 miles per hour gusts and rain in excess of 5 inches around Connecticut for a sustained period.
The wind and rain toppled trees onto power lines and left scores of roads impassable. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, in a separate press conference in Hartford Tuesday, said the sustained winds limited the ability of linemen to get up in bucket trucks to restore power.
“There was widespread damage across the state,” Mitch Gross, a spokesman for Eversource said Wednesday morning. “We are replacing nearly 200 broken poles, we are re-hanging some 56 miles of electric lines that came down during the storm…we’ve been working with the towns to unblock more than 200 roads.”
He said there are no quick fixes. That being said “we have restored more than 271,000 customers since the beginning of the storm,” Gross added.
“The vast majority of customers in western and central Connecticut will be restored by today at 6 p.m. and in eastern Connecticut – where we are rebuilding portions of the electric system – the vast majority there will be restored by noon on Thursday…but remember, we’re restoring power to customers around the clock so many customers are getting their power back before those times,” Gross said.
Malloy, who wasn’t at Tuesday’s press conference in New Haven, said the state has learned from Superstorm Sandy.
“We have taken a number of steps that are strengthening our resilience against future storms, including creating the nation’s first microgrid program, investing millions to hardening infrastructure along our shoreline to protect from flooding, designating thousands of acres of forest along our shoreline as open space that serve as a coastal buffer against storm waters, and we’ve made significant investments to protect housing in flood-prone areas,” Malloy said.
Department of Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker said his department has taken a number of steps, since Sandy, to be proactive concerning storm damage.
“This weekend was a strong reminder of what wind and rain can do,” Redeker said, “with trees down all over the state of Connecticut.”
“We at the DOT have embarked on a major tree trimming program since Superstorm Sandy,” the DOT commissioner said.
But he said the effort his department has undertaken to prevent big storm damage also includes addressing erosion and bridge scour conditions, addressing drainage systems, acquiring new equipment and infrastructure hardening work, including the New Haven rail yard, the Norwalk rail yard walk bridge and sea wall reinforcement in several towns.
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp said there are 1,900 acres in New Haven in the 100-year flood zone.
“We continue working with state and federal government officials to protect the city from flooding through increased awareness and enforcement of floodplain, ordinances , stormwater and drainage system maintenance and coastal protection,” Harp said.
Asked at the press conference if Connecticut would be better prepared for a major weather event – such as the hurricanes that have struck Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico the past few months – state officials answered, yes.
“Practice, practice, practice,” Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Dora B. Schriro said. “Statewide we are continuing to hone our skills.”
She said “Sandy, Harvey, Irma, and Maria are all stark reminders that planning and preparation are vital to our response, recovery, and resiliency to any disaster or emergency we may face.”
One of the benefits when storms hit is jobs. At Tuesday’s press conference was Department of Labor Commissioner Scott Jackson.
“Helping people find jobs is a priority at the Labor Department, and the federal grants allowed us to put unemployed residents to work, assist with storm clean up, and provide workforce training with the goal of transitioning people from temporary jobs to real careers,” Jackson said.
One of the challenges of preparing for storms, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Rob Klee said, is the political climate in Washington, where President Donald Trump, among others are believers in the science of climate change.
“Here in Connecticut we understand science and recognize that climate change is real and that it is happening all around us,” Klee said. “We are determined to continue moving forward to protect our residents, their safety, and their property from increasing storm surges and flooding we expect to see along our shore – as well as flooding along inland waterways.”
These types of weather events will continue to challenge the state and Connecticut officials believe climate change is responsible.
Malloy said more needs to be done to combat the impact of climate change, which has resulted in an increase in the frequency and power of storms.
“Connecticut is committed to reducing carbon emissions, in accordance with the Paris Agreement, but states must not be alone in this effort,” he stated.
“Rather than reversing course and isolating ourselves, the United States federal government must show international leadership on the most pressing global issue of our lifetimes,” Malloy said. “I am once again urging President Trump to recommit the United States to following the terms of the Paris Agreement.”