Three weeks after Tropical Storm Irene caused the worst power outages in state history, Connecticut lawmakers convened a special hearing Monday to assess how the state handled the storm.
Executives from the state’s two major power suppliers defended their companies’ response operations in testimony before several committees Monday afternoon, the Connecticut Mirror reported. But while state and municipal officials present praised the utilities’ efforts in advance of the storm, executives came under fire for the long wait of some residents for their power to return — many on Lynwood Place waited over a week.
The most critical voice in the room was that of House Speaker Chris Donovan, a Democrat running for a U.S. Congressional seat in 2012.
“Too many suffered without power for too long, jeopardizing their health, safety and livelihoods,” he said, according to a statement on his caucus’ website.
Because most of the damage to the state’s power grid was the result of fallen tree debris, utility executives asked legislators to consider giving them greater flexibility in trimming trees close to power lines, the Mirror reported.
The hearings in Hartford came on the heels of a Quinnipiac University Poll released Sept. 15 in which Gov. Dannel Malloy appeared to receive an “Irene bounce,” according to poll director Douglas Schwartz.
While Malloy’s overall job approval rating stands at 41 percent in the poll, 79 percent of those surveyed approved of his handling of the state’s response to Irene. Voters also approved of the utilities’ response efforts by a margin of 61 to 32 percent.
Another meeting to examine the state’s response to Irene will be held next Monday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
At about 3:30 a.m. this morning, street lamps on Lynwood Place flickered on for the first time in over a week.
Since the landfall of Tropical Storm Irene last Sunday morning, the street, home mostly to Yale undergraduates living off campus, had been in the dark. Despite a vow by United Illuminating Company to return power to all New Haven customers by the end of Saturday night, Lynwood residents were among the last holdouts in the state’s worst rash of power outages in its history.
“I’m elated, euphoric, but it’s sad to have to be so happy about something so basic,” Kat Lau ’13 said upon exiting her house at 28 Lynwood Pl.
United Illuminating crews worked late into Sunday night, Bowen Zhang ’13, of 33 Lynwood Pl., said.
For those wondering why Lynwood’s wait for power exceeded that of almost every other street in the city, United Illuminating spokesman Michael West said the company prioritizes restoration based on the amount of labor required at a given location and how many customers can be restored at once. Both factors, it seems, placed Lynwood near the bottom of United Illuminating’s concerns: with two large fallen trees taking down live power wires, the street required extensive work; and because of its isolated location in the city’s power grid (Lynwood occupies just one block between Elm Street and Edgewood Avenue), restoring power on Lynwood would not have boosted restoration figures as quickly as on more integrated streets.
“Our priority is always to get the most amount of people back on in the shortest amount of time,” West said.
As of 10:45 a.m. on Monday, only 10 homes in New Haven lacked power.
While sunny skies and balmy weather made Hurricane Irene feel like a distant memory on Monday, the city was still struggling to clear fallen trees from dozens of streets and restore power to thousands of residents who have been in the dark since the storm hit early Sunday.
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 all week. About 17,000 homes and traffic signals at 55 traffic intersections in New Haven remain without power, United Illuminating vice president John Prete said at the press conference, adding that he could not predict when power would return to the entire city.
“I know you’re frustrated — we’re doing everything we physically can to get your power back as quickly as possible,” Prete said. By midnight Monday night, the company hopes to be able to provide residents with estimated restoration times, he said.
Zero injuries and minimal property damage made New Haven a relatively fortunate victim of the storm, which whipped up devastating winds and waves that reduced several homes in East Haven to rubble and caused the death of at least two Connecticut residents.
Statewide, power outages have decreased from about 775,000 at the storm’s peak to about 680,000 Monday evening. After a shutdown Saturday night, Metro-North rail service resumed on a limited basis Monday evening. According to the state department of transportation website, full service to New York is expected to be restored Tuesday morning with the exception of the New Canaan, Waterbury and Danbury branch lines.
New Haven’s cleanup operations 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. Crews from Kansas City, North Carolina, Indiana and Canada are assisting United Illuminating crews in restoring power to homes in the Greater New Haven area, Prete said. A total of 70 tree crews and 90 power line crews are currently working, he said.
The city’s top priority is clearing tree debris from the roads, DeStefano said, adding that eight streets were blocked and dozens more were obstructed by fallen trees Monday afternoon. 221 city workers in 47 crews are working nearly 24 hours a day and will continue working nearly the entire week, he said.
In a stark contrast to the city’s much-criticized response to January’s crippling snowstorms, aldermen praised the DeStefano administration’s efforts in preparing for and cleaning up after Irene.
Perhaps the most vocal critic of the city’s snow response efforts, Ward 9 Alderman Matt Smith ’98 said the city has done a much better job during Irene of keeping both aldermen and their constituents informed about the storm. Since Sunday at 9 a.m., DeStefano has conducted several conference calls with aldermen and state legislators, Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark said, that helped keep officials “in the loop.”
“The communication has been exceptional,” Smith said, adding that he plans on going door to door to distribute flyers updating Ward 9 residents about the city’s progress, given that an email would not reach the majority of his East Rock constituents who remain without power.
The city’s response also won the applause of State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney (D-New Haven), who spoke after DeStefano at the press conference against the backdrop of a crew beginning to remove the downed tree on State Street.
“All hands are on deck,” said Looney, who is himself without power. “We’ll get through this together.”
There have been no incidents of looting reported during the storm, New Haven Police Department Chief Frank Limon said. Still, 100 police officers will be on duty throughout the night Monday, focusing on parts of the city with more severe power outages.
We are hearing that many off-campus students are without power this morning.
A resident of the Elmhurst told us that buildings along Elm Street, including the Elmhurst and the heavyweight crew house, lost power at around 5:30 a.m. and are still in the dark as of 11:12 a.m.
Meanwhile, residents of Howe Street are also reporting that they lost power. As of 11:23 a.m. lights are out in some houses on that street, but street lights are on and Mamoun’s has power and is open for business.
That said, students who live at Edgewood Avenue and Park Street, 1012 Chapel Street and the Cambridge Oxford Apartments on High Street have all reported having power.
We’ve heard that students in the Pi Phi house on Crown Street still have power too. But two residents of different houses on Lynwood has said that their power has been out since this morning. Kat Lau ’13 told our reporter Emily Foxhall that a fallen tree appears to be pulling down the power lines.