City, state clean up after storm

Sandy caused widespread, yet minimal damage throughout New Haven, including the destruction of 195 trees.
Sandy caused widespread, yet minimal damage throughout New Haven, including the destruction of 195 trees. Photo by Jane Long.

Though New Haven’s encounter with Hurricane Sandy was milder than some predicted, the city was left with a daunting relief project Tuesday morning.

A day after Hurricane Sandy brought winds and flooding to New Haven, President Obama declared an expedited major disaster in New Haven County — along with Fairfield, Middlesex and New London — allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to organize relief efforts in the city. But while flooding damage and fallen trees were reported across the city, New Haven did not see the brunt of the storm that affected areas farther south along the coast.

“The worst of the storm is behind us. Now the hard work begins,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. said in a Tuesday morning press release. “Our first priority today will be safety: making wires safe, restoring power and opening public right of ways.”

DeStefano asked that New Haven citizens stay inside Tuesday unless it was necessary to leave their shelter. Although the storm had passed, DeStefano said hazardous conditions still existed, and 10 percent of New Haven power customers were left without electricity.

Sandy brought much of the Eastern seaboard to a halt as the hurricane pounded the coast with wind and large storm surges. As of Tuesday night, the reported death toll in the United States was 40 — in addition to the 69 lives the storm claimed before leaving the Caribbean — and over 8.2 million Americans faced power outages. The New York Stock Exchange closed for the second day in a row — the Exchange’s first weather-related closure since 1888.

The President’s expedited major disaster declaration authorizes the federal government to reimburse Connecticut state and local agencies at 75 percent federal funding for any approved emergency measures and debris removal and gives eligible individuals disaster assistance.

“When I spoke with the President earlier today, he made it clear that the federal government was going to do everything in its power to help our residents get back to normal as quickly as possible,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said.

Malloy said that during his visits to various Connecticut counties Tuesday, he found that wind and water damage was especially prevalent around the shoreline area. Malloy directed the FEMA team delegated to Connecticut to deliver aid “as soon as possible” to those regions of Connecticut they deem in greatest need.

Local New Haven agencies have already begun relief work, with storm crews working throughout the storm Monday night to ensure the safety of the city’s residents. In New Haven, 107 roads were blocked or partially blocked by the storm’s destruction, and the hurricane took down 172 wires in public right-of-ways and cut off power to 39 traffic signals, DeStefano said in the Tuesday press release.

The downed wires impeded the progress of the cleanup of the reported 195 fallen trees.

“United Illuminating ‘Make Safe’ crews are currently working to de-energize fallen power lines throughout the city,” DeStefano said. “Until that can occur, city tree crews cannot begin to remove entangled trees that may be blocking public streets and sidewalks.”

In response to the safety hazards still present in public walkways and roads, New Haven Public Schools, which were closed Monday and Tuesday in response to Sandy, will also be closed Wednesday, DeStefano said. Two schools reported damage as of Tuesday morning, and eight were left without power.

DeStefano said that the conditions facing New Haven schools will be reassessed Wednesday, and a decision about the reopening of schools Thursday will be made by mid-Wednesday. To further protect New Haven children from any potential dangers Wednesday, DeStefano — along with the mayors of East Haven and West Haven — requested that Halloween activities be postponed until next week.

“I am urging families to keep children inside this Halloween and to consider celebrating Halloween next Wednesday, Nov. 7 instead,” DeStefano said.

Governor Malloy extended the voter registration and absentee voting deadlines from Tuesday to Thursday in response to the storm. While New Haven City Hall remained closed Tuesday, the Registrar of Voters and City Clerk’s offices opened to the public to allow for the coordination of such pre-election activities. Other city staff made visits and phone calls to businesses, major residential buildings and New Haven properties Tuesday in order to evaluate damages they faced.

Career High School was open Tuesday for residents still in need of shelter, and New Haven citizens were welcomed by the city’s fire stations to charge equipment and take advantage of wireless Internet access.

Malloy will give media briefings today at 8:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to provide updates on recovery efforts.

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