Around one million Connecticut residents lost power two weeks ago due to Hurricane Isaias, a Category one hurricane that swept past the Caribbean and the East Coast of the United States.
The blackout cut access to electricity, internet, or hot water for more than one week throughout the state, including in the Fairfield County city of New Canaan. The blackouts also left elder residents without access to electric chairs or oxygen tanks. The public expressed anger towards the regional electrical distribution company, Eversource, for a slow response to the power outage. Despite the discomfort from the hurricane, and the omnipresent global pandemic, the New Canaan community banded together to overcome the power outage.
“It was very ironic that we were in this beautiful neighborhood that looks so pristine and lovely, but we were searching for water all the time,” said New Canaan resident Diana Lada, who lost power and lost access to water for five days. “We had a 90 plus foot tree come down and miss our house by only ten feet, but we also had trees in the neighborhood that had cut off power lines.”
A heightened sense of anxiety grew across residents as access to water and soap was unavailable for more than a week.
“Once electricity was cut off due to the storm, we lacked all the things that kept us safe,” said Lada. “We were on edge, I won’t lie, but we also had wonderful friends who opened up their homes, did a special cleaning for us and kept us going with showers and endless gallons of filtered water.”
Residents flocked into town to find a place with access to the internet. 1,600 residents ended up sitting outside the New Canaan Library. Lisa Oldham, the executive director of the New Canaan Library, said she and her team had to set up power cords attached to power strips outside under tents at first to help residents get access to the internet. Despite having closed to the public since March due to social distancing restrictions, the library staff decided to reopen their doors to offer more seating for residents.
“The library is a completely neutral place where everyone is welcome. That is what drives the library to do what they do,” said Oldham. “Being able to be there for the community is very important to us. The team showed up every day, even though they would have preferred to have a hot shower just like everybody else.”
The uncertain living conditions caused by the Hurricane Isais led many residents to rush for essentials at surrounding stores.
Jess Sempertegui, the manager of a New Canaan CVS Pharmacy, said the store saw an influx of customers after the tropical storm hit the state.
“It was nice to see people buying essentials for other people, whether it’s coolers of ice, drinks, or batteries,” said Sempertegui.
Since the end of the storm, many New Canaan residents have demanded that the local government hold Eversource accountable for the disruptive and prolonged power failure.
“I hate to cast blame because I’m sure Eversource was doing the best that they could under the circumstances, but I do think that we have good weather reporting these days and the science is certainly there,” said Lada. “Perhaps they should have taken the storm more seriously and had their crew out.”
The anger has pressed legislators in Hartford to react to the unprecedented power outages. The legislative Energy and Technology Committee proposed the “Take Back our Grid Act” to hold electrical distribution companies legally liable for future failures. If passed this act would mandate the burying of power lines, require compensation for money for consumers of electrical distribution companies, and focus on offering more electric options for consumers.
Power lines in New Canaan remain antiquated and above ground. In most parts of the country they are buried underground.
Eversource spokeswoman Tricia Modifica told the Hartford Courant that restoration of electricity was faster after Hurricane Isaias than it was following Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
“That said, we expect PURA will conduct a thorough and tireless review of all aspects of the storm and that we will be called upon to provide information on our preparation, response, and lessons learned,” she told the Hartford Courant.
Eversource has owned and operated all utilities in New England since 1966.