In Irene’s wake, Elm City left powerless

Downed trees and other cleanup costs are expected to cost the City of New Haven around $3.3 million.
Downed trees and other cleanup costs are expected to cost the City of New Haven around $3.3 million. Photo by Alon Harish.

A week after Tropical Storm Irene robbed more than 17,000 New Haven homes of their power, many Yale students’ homes were among the last still in the dark Sunday evening.

Despite a vow by United Illuminating Company, Greater New Haven’s main power supplier, to restore power to all New Haven customers by Saturday night, 172 homes in New Haven were without power Sunday evening. In a press release Saturday, United Illuminating promised to return power to “virtually all customers” by the end of Sunday.

But as of 8 p.m. Sunday night, that promise appeared empty to residents of Lynwood Place, many of them Yale students, who prepared to head into their eighth day without electricity.

A United Illuminating crew was seen working on Lynwood Sunday night, but no crews had been to the street since Friday, Susanna Shattuck ’13, a resident of 37 Lynwood Pl., said. While Shattuck and her neighbors were among the last holdouts in the worst power outage in state history, United Illuminating never gave them any estimates for when their power will return, Shattuck said.

“It’s been really disappointing, but not surprising given how little they’ve worked on the street,” she said, adding that downed power lines continue to make the street unsafe for pedestrians.

In the face of mounting frustration from customers throughout the company’s service territory, United Illuminating executives offered words of encouragement that their lights will soon turn on, but few details.

“For those customers who remain without power, nearly a week after the hurricane, the end is in sight — and I want to personally express my gratitude for their patience during this time of hardship,” James Torgerson, CEO of United Illuminating’s parent company, said in the press release.

At a press conference held at Long Wharf Park, which was severely eroded by Irene’s waves, United Illuminating Vice President Tony Marone said crews are working in concert with crews from around the country, doing everything possible to restore power.

Irene’s cost to the city will top $13 million, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said. Included in the $13 million figure is $9.7 million in damage to city-owned property and $3.3 million in cleanup costs such as overtime for city tree crews.

The city does not yet have data for the total cost of damage to private property in the city, DeStefano said.

Long Wharf Park, which snakes along the coastline between the water and Interstate 95, incurred $7 million of erosion damage. The Sound School, on the banks of the New Haven Harbor, incurred $1 million in damage. The federal government will likely reimburse 75 percent of New Haven’s Irene-related costs, he said.

The portion that is not reimbursed will have to come from the city’s budget, he said.

Overall, DeStefano said, New Havenites have much to be thankful for in the wake of the storm, which caused the deaths of at least two Connecticut residents.

“No one got hurt and no one lost their homes,” he said. “I consider us blessed.”

Meanwhile, federal aid for the state’s recovery efforts became available Friday night, when President Barack Obama signed an order declaring five Connecticut counties a disaster area. By Saturday, the entire state was covered by a federal disaster designation.

Gov. Dannel Malloy announced in a Friday press release that the U.S. Department of Transportation made $1 million available for the state’s use in cleaning up and repairing its bridge and roadway infrastructure. The total cost of transportation infrastructure damage will likely top $5 million, Malloy said.

Malloy and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will visit East Haven today to tour the storm damage there, the governor announced Sunday. Three beachfront houses in East Haven were destroyed and pulled out into the Atlantic Ocean, while dozens more were severely damaged.

Statewide, about 98 percent of homes whose power Irene knocked out had regained power by Sunday evening.

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