Irene knocks out power

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Photo by Harry Simperingham.

The apartments and houses of many off-campus Yale students are among the approximately 6,700 residences that remain without power as the city and the University work to undo the damage wrought by Hurricane Irene.

About a third of New Haven was without power at the peak of the storm Sunday, and large swaths of the Dwight neighborhood west of campus, home to hundreds of undergraduates living on Lynwood Place, Howe Street and Dwight Street, remain in the dark. Lynwood was especially hard-hit, with trees taking down power lines, blocking the roadway, crushing bicycles and causing persistent power outages.

“It’s like an obstacle course getting home,” Zack Foreman ’13, a resident of the sailing team’s house on Lynwood, said, explaining that two large fallen trees and several broken branches obstructed the street and brought down tangled power lines. Foreman said he and his neighbors have been in the dark since 5 a.m. Sunday morning and have been told to expect their power to remain out for at least five more days.

As of press time, the Elmhurst apartment building and at least one other house on Elm Street had regained power.

Still, Senem Cilingiroglu ’13, also a resident of the sailing house, said the general mood on Lynwood is one of understanding given the magnitude of the blackouts throughout much of the city.

Despite the extensive disruptions to Dwight and other neighborhoods, it was clear by Sunday afternoon that New Haven had been spared the worst of Connecticut’s encounter with Irene, which was downgraded to a tropical storm before it made landfall Sunday morning. Yale’s campus, far from the storm surges that plagued the city’s coastline and areas around the Mill and Quinnipiac rivers, emerged largely unscathed by the storm.

While trees fell in streets, courtyards and walkways throughout campus, power stayed on in all but a few locations and basement flooding was not severe, Vice President and University Secretary Linda Lorimer said in an email to students. Live wires posed dangers Sunday morning as a tree fell onto a power line near the Yale Human Resources building on Whitney Avenue and another power line fell in Parking Lot 51 behind the Music School, Lorimer wrote.

With most of the tree debris cleared on campus, the worst problem plaguing Yale students remains the power outages that persist in many off-campus residences. Utility executives said Tuesday night that restoring power to the entire state could take until next Wednesday, and they were not prepared to provide estimates for when power would be restored to specific residences.

The Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven line resumed regular service to New York City on Tuesday, except for the Waterbury and Danbury branch lines.

Irene’s winds left their most violent mark on the coastline to New Haven’s east, and heavier rains further inland swelled rivers higher than in the Elm City.

Three beachfront houses in East Haven were destroyed and pulled out into the Atlantic Ocean, while dozens more were severely damaged. In Bristol, rescuers from the National Guard, which activated over 800 troops throughout the state, rescued one of three men whose canoe had capsized in the Pequabuck River, while another man swam to safety and the third, Shane Seaver, never surfaced.

Irene’s Connecticut death toll stands at two, including Seaver and a woman in Prospect who died in a house fire caused by downed wires.

Despite weakening as it moved north from Connecticut, Irene wreaked devastation in parts of upstate New York and New England. Thirteen towns in Vermont are currently isolated by floodwaters, and untold damage has been done to towns in the Catskills and areas further inland.

At a press conference Monday afternoon held near a massive downed tree blocking State Street at Edwards Street in East Rock, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. thanked residents for their patience as crews continue a cleanup effort that could last into early next week. United Illuminating Company Vice President John Prete said he could not predict when power would return to the entire city.

United Illuminating, the Greater New Haven area’s primary power supplier, has deployed 208 crews, many of them from out of state, throughout its service territory. Crews from places as far from New Haven as Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Indiana are assisting United Illuminating crews in restoring power to homes in the Greater New Haven area, Prete said.

“It’s barely been 48 hours and we knew the magnitude of damage was significant, but the numbers here are astonishing,” James P. Torgerson, CEO of UIL Holdings, United Illuminating’s parent company, said Tuesday. Torgerson said he hopes that by midnight Tuesday the number of United Illuminating customers without power will decrease to 65,000, compared to 158,000 at the storm’s peak Sunday morning. Statewide, about 400,000 remain without power, down from 775,000 Sunday.

While the company acknowledged residents’ frustration over having to wait several days for power restoration, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Anthony Vallillo said United Illuminating did not want “to provide times that were not based on known conditions.”

New Haven’s 47 tree-clearing crews, totaling 221 workers, are dependent on the progress of United Illuminating’s crews, because much debris remains tangled up in dangerous live wires, city spokesman Adam Joseph said.

On Monday afternoon, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said the city’s goal would be to clear all arterial roads of tree debris by sunset on Tuesday. That goal will most likely be reached by Wednesday morning’s rush hour, Joseph said Tuesday night.

In the city’s extensive cleanup operation, which will likely drag on into early next week, the top priority is to make streets safe, Joseph said. The second goal, he said, was to address the needs of vulnerable residents such as seniors who remain without power. The city sent crews Tuesday afternoon to deliver ice to seniors without power to keep their medications cool.

New Haven’s cleanup efforts have already cost the city $500,000 in overtime, DeStefano said, and will likely end up costing over $1 million, most of which he expects to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA representatives visited New Haven Tuesday to brief city officials on how to apply for reimbursement, Joseph said, adding that the city’s finance department is closely tracking every expense the city is making throughout its response to Irene.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy spoke Monday about the beating the state’s coastline took from Irene after visiting Beach Street in West Haven and Cosey Beach Avenue in East Haven, where significant property damage was reported. The state has licensed an additional 1,900 insurance adjusters from out of state to expedite assessments for homeowners who have experienced property damage during the storm, bringing the total number of adjusters to 5,000, insurance commissioner Thomas Leonardi said.

“After touring some of the hardest-hit areas in East Haven and West Haven personally, it’s clear we have our work cut out for ourselves as we begin to fully grasp the damages associated with this storm,” Malloy said in a press release.

Malloy and Catherine Smith, commissioner of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, announced on Monday a program to help businesses that suffered property damage due to Irene. The program will include state-sponsored bridge financing and loans covering uninsured losses for damaged businesses.

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