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Rosenthal 'Not In Any Way Satisfied' With Utility's Prep Or Response To Storm



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August 6, the second morning post-Tropical Storm Isaias, dawned bright and clear, with two sounds competing for the soundwaves: chainsaws and generators, kicking off another day of cleanup efforts and their accompanying cacophony.

As of 7:16 am, 7,529 Eversource customers in Newtown — or 65.7% of the utility’s local customer base — were still without power. Most were knocked offline between approximately 1 and 5 pm Tuesday, August 4, when the height of the storm worked through the region. Others lost power in subsequent hours, as waterlogged root systems failed, dropping more trees onto roadways. Some of the trees also damaged homes and other buildings, and many of those trees pulled utility wires with them.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal confirmed on Thursday that there was one storm-related fatality in town this week. An adult male was fatally injured while doing cleanup work in his yard Tuesday evening, despite efforts by EMTs, police officers, and firefighters.

“It was an unfortunate, tragic accident,” Rosenthal said. “My deepest sympathies go out to the gentleman’s family.

“My thoughts and sympathies go to all who responded as well, and to the dispatch staff. It was difficult to get to the scene, and dispatch did everything they could to get first responders there.”

Statewide, Eversource reported 839,000 customers had been without service because of the storm. Of that figure, 214,000 customers had been restored by Wednesday evening.

Newtown’s numbers hovered around the 65 percent mark mid-Thursday morning.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal told The Newtown Bee he is frustrated by the response from the utility that provides retail electricity, natural gas service, and water service to approximately 4 million customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

“We knew this was coming,” he said of the storm. “I realize that the damage is widespread, but to not have a crew to tell us that lines are dead so that we can cut trees is unacceptable, and this is nearly 48 hours after the storm.”

The first selectman’s remarks referred to the fact that very few line crews were in town immediately after the storm, when Public Works crews and first responders were dispatched on hundreds of calls reporting trees and/or wires down. None of those people can touch any power lines, however, until a utility worker or Make Safe crew gets to a location and confirms service that is in fact off.

“I understand power restoration can take time,” Rosenthal stated. “What I don’t understand is the lack of Make Safe crews, where we have roads blocked to fire, and EMS, and police, and to have to sit for as long as they have I find unacceptable. We have DPW crews who will work around the clock to open roads, but they can’t touch anything with wires until they’ve been cleared to.”

The town’s top leader said he spoke with someone at Eversource Thursday morning.

“They’re trying,” he said. “I just think they didn’t anticipate well the amount of damage that this could cause.”

He knows there are residents also justifiably frustrated as they wake up two days after the storm, still cut off from the world.

“I can’t imagine the anxiety some of our residents are going through,” Rosenthal said. “We’re going to push hard to get that resolved.”

His big objective today, he said, “is to get those roads opened. If we didn’t do that yesterday, it has to be done today, and Eversource is aware of that.”

With dozens of roads still fully blocked, and dozens more partially blocked as of Wednesday evening, Rosenthal on Thursday said he expects “to put a big dent” in opening those roads before another nightfall.

A Lack Of Preparedness

Rosenthal’s frustration was clear when he released a CodeRED message Wednesday evening, his second in as many nights.

“I’m sorry to report to you that since my last call we actually have nearly the same number of residents without power, though down modestly from earlier today. While my goal is to get everyone restored as soon as possible, my biggest concern at the moment is the 56 blocked, and 65 partially blocked, roads in town.

“Our Public Works crews cannot cut trees from wires without assistance from Eversource, and therein lies the problem. I understand that the outage levels Eversource is dealing with rival Superstorm Sandy; however, I do not accept that the corporate preparedness to this event was where it should have been.

“The frontline workers have my respect for their tireless efforts; however, I will continue to share my frustration with those in charge. Unfortunately, given where we are, I would expect that outages will be comparable to past events that lasted more than a week.

“Of course I will not accept that it takes a day longer than it needs to, and will supply restoration updates as I have them.”

If that wasn’t clear enough, the first selectmen later stated he “was not in any way satisfied, nor is the emergency management team, and we will continue to work until this is behind us.”

Rosenthal reminded residents that charging stations and Wi-Fi access are available at Newtown Municipal Center, Newtown Community Center, and the back parking lot of C.H. Booth Library. Newtown High School, he said, has been added to the locations offering those services as well.

Water is available at the Botsford, Hook & Ladder, and Sandy Hook (Riverside Road/main) firehouses, he said. Residents must provide their own containers.

Dumpers for food spoilage will be available at Botsford, Dodgingtown, and Sandy Hook main stations as of Thursday morning, and residents can access the locker rooms for showers at Newtown High School beginning Thursday morning, he also announced Wednesday night.

“Respectfully, we ask that you wear a face covering and socially distance when visiting all these locations,” Rosenthal added.

The Board of Education will conduct a special meeting, he said, at 1:30 Thursday, August 6, “to hear the re-entry model that the superintendent is planning to use for school this fall.

“The agenda, with information on how to follow the discussion, is on the town website. Parents and guardians will be able to indicate their own plans for their children on a survey that will go out later this week,” he noted.

Rosenthal closed by urging residents to check on neighbors in need, “and continue to stay safe.”

Eversource Statement

Statewide Wednesday evening, Eversource announced that its initial assessments showed “that damage to the electrical system in Connecticut from tropical storm Isaias is extensive.” Its impact, according to a statement, “is one of the largest on record.”

Eversource said customers should prepare for “multiple days without power.”

“While 214,000 customers have been restored since the storm began Tuesday,” the statement continued, “more than 625,000 remain out of power across the 149 communities we serve in the state.”

The utility had 14,475 damage locations as of Wednesday evening. Of those, 4,479 were “fire priority locations,” explaining that those locations are typically blocked roads and downed wires.

“The initial damage identified so far includes 214 broken poles, more than 1,400 spans of downed electrical wire, and 90 damaged transformers. Nearly 1,000 trees will have to be cleared,” the utility announced.

In response to the state of emergency announced earlier in the day by Governor Ned Lamont, Eversource secured additional resources from its mutual aid network; crews have been arriving from Canada, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

“We know that losing power is a significant disruption — especially during this pandemic,” the utility stated. “Because we are performing work under these strict health precautions, we ask that all customers please keep physically distanced from our crews. We will work to restore service as quickly as we safely can until everyone has power again.”

The utility on Wednesday continued, it said, to experience intermittent issues with its reporting systems. Residents have told The Newtown Bee of issues with phone, website, and mobile app reporting.

Vehicles traveling east on Berkshire Road Tuesday evening were directed to either turn around or turn onto Zoar Road after a section of Berkshire was closed due a tree that fell on utility wires during Tropical Storm Isaias. One Newtown resident died Tuesday evening following an accident while doing storm cleanup at their home. —Bee Photo, Hicks
A large section of a tree at Fairfield Hills was damaged by Tropical Storm Isaias. —Bee Photo, Silber
A different view of the damaged tree southwest of Newtown Municipal Center the morning after Tropical Storm Isaias. —Bee Photo, Silber
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