Our town and our lives changed late in the afternoon on May 15. I don’t think anyone in New Fairfield was untouched. Most tragically, a family lost a mother. Many people suffered extensive damage to their homes – for a few the loss of their home was complete. Our landscape, lawns, and gardens were permanently changed. Trees that we nurtured and admired are gone.
We sat in awe in basements and back rooms as the winds swirled and receded. Our children were put in fear and our pets were spooked. Most of us cried when we came out of our houses to see what happened. The day will leave a mark on all of us.
The National Weather Service has confirmed that four tornadoes and a macro-burst with winds exceeding 110 mph hit our town. The breadth of damage is almost unimaginable – worse than the impact of Superstorm Sandy on Connecticut. An Eversource executive with 30 years experience said he’s never seen anything like the damage they are dealing with. A few numbers just for New Fairfield from immediately after the storm sum it up: 419 broken poles, 628 trees to be cleared, 44 miles of wire to be restrung, 121 transformers affected, and 61 blocked roads (virtually all our roads).
The response from the community was phenomenal. People got out and helped their neighbors – sawed trees off cars and roads to make them semi-passable, gave shelter to families whose home needed repairing, donated food, supplies, and time. Thousands of small kindnesses and smiles made life bearable. As I worked at the shelter the Town set up on Wednesday, I was impressed with the positive attitude of those who came in for a meal, a shower, water, bathrooms, or device charging. People often expressed gratefulness that they and their families were unharmed and safe.
An army of crews descended on the town from New Fairfield’s Public Works Department, Eversource, the National Guard, and Public Works teams from other towns to clear trees from wires and roads so that cars, emergency vehicles, and buses could pass, to reset hundreds of broken poles, and restring wires. Eversource was in New Fairfield on Wednesday and started moving in crews on Thursday. On Monday, we had over 100 crews in town. By the time this column was submitted for publication on Monday (5/21), the percentage of customer outages stood at 20%, down from 98% on Tuesday night.
Eversource has 6103 customers in New Fairfield. Even progress down to 20% out means 1250 New Fairfielders remain without power. Many of us now have power back on and internet again, thanks to the hard work of the teams that have come to New Fairfield. Kids will be back in school shortly.
Some areas were particularly hard hit and are receiving special focus after Eversource cleared our main thoroughfares and got the electrical spine up and operating. Warwick, the Ball Pond area, Shortwoods, Candlewood Hills, Bear Mountain, Possum Drive, Rita Drive, and Candlewood Isle, among others, suffered major damage. Priority was placed on clearing and repowering main electrical arteries. The remaining repair work required now involves running wires to individual homes and takes more time. The crews remain here in force, but progress will seem to be slower as they work on individual homes.
This was a storm of historic proportions. The Town reacted immediately by declaring a State of Emergency, which set the groundwork for the National Guard coming in to help us. First Selectman Pat Del Monaco worked diligently to bring Eversource and other resources to town. She also worked with Governor Malloy, Congresswoman Esty, Senator Blumenthal, the Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, State Senator Mike McLachlan, State Representative Ferguson, to bring in the needed resources.
While Eversource ultimately threw a lot of resources into fixing our problem and has done a remarkable job when they got here, we are not happy with their immediate response and will follow up to try to improve for future events. Additionally, we will look at how to improve how we communicate to New Fairfielders. Extreme weather events are happening more frequently and we need to learn from this event for the future.
Now the hard work of the aftermath begins. We face a massive and painful clean-up and repair of our properties – both private and public. It’s going to be a long and expensive process. We will need tree people, roofers, electricians, construction people, among others. The Town is working hard with our political leaders to get the state and federal paperwork processed so that President Trump declares us an federal emergency area. When that is done, we will receive emergency relief dollars to help with clean-up expenses on both public and private properties.
The drone of generators is fading. The buzz of saws and chippers is increasing. Heavy equipment is moving in and will increase. Traffic will be impeded for some time to come. Life for many – but not all – of us has become “normalish.” We still have friends, neighbors and relatives who are still not in comfortable or convenient circumstances. We need to continue to help and support them. Small acts of kindness, hugs and smiles should continue to be the order of the day.
To reliably receive the frequent alerts the Town sends out, make sure your cell phone is listed on our AlertNow system. Email email@example.com with your name, address, cell phone number and ask to be included in the AlertNow system. Lan line numbers are acceptable, but not reliable during emergency events. You can also press the AlertNow button on the Town’s website: www.newfairfield.org. If your home is not safe and you need assistance from Red Cross, please call 877-287-3327.
– Khris Hall, New Fairfield Selectman