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Residents see red over blackout

WINSTED — Residents expressed dissatisfaction with the town for the way it handled an extended blackout during the Board of Selectmen’s meeting on Monday, Nov. 7.After an unusual winter snow storm hit on Saturday, Oct. 29, the town did not have electricity for several days.During that time, an emergency shelter for residents was opened up at the Blanche McCarthy Senior Center.The shelter was used to feed residents three meals a day, as a warming station, and it also allowed residents a place to sleep overnight.Up to 50 residents stayed at the shelter each night as Connecticut Light and Power (CL&P) crews worked to restore electricity to the town.Power started to return to certain portions of town on Wednesday, Nov. 2.By Thursday, Nov. 3, town officials decided to shut down the shelter.Town Manager Dale Martin said that the shelter was closed because the residents making use of it had their power restored.During the public comments portion of the selectmen’s meeting, resident Joe Forster said he was not happy how the town handled the emergency.“I thought the shelters should have remained open after Thursday because we still had people without electricity,” Forster said. “The other nights it was still cold, and I think people should have had a place to warm up.”Forster said the town should have found a way to better notify residents of the shelter.“When I was on the police department, we set police cars out with PA systems that told people where they could go,” Forster said. “The police could have gone out and told people where the shelter was. The town needs a better plan to get together for emergencies. I don’t think we’ve ever had a 100 percent electrical outage for more than an hour, except for maybe the flood of 1955.”Resident Jay Budahazy said he too was dissatisfied with the town deciding to shut the shelter down early.“I had phone calls from residents who told me they had to go all the way to Canton to get to a shelter,” Budahazy said. “What about the homeless people? What about the people who do not have a place to go?”“That was not intended to be a shelter for the homeless,” Martin said. “That was intended as a shelter for people without power.”“It still should have been a shelter if somebody needs a place,” Budahazy said. “There were people there who did not have power restored, and they had to go to Canton. That shelter should have been open for awhile at least. To leave someone out in the cold or for them to have to go two towns over, that’s pretty disgusting. Even if it it’s one person, it’s not the right way for doing things.”Selectman Lisa Smith defended Martin.“We need people to staff the shelter,” Smith said. “To get people to stay the night has been very difficult.”“This all should have been set up,” Budahazy said. “There were people in town without electricity, water and heat who had to go two towns over. Don’t ever do that again. I’ll come down and have you go outside and see how you like it.”Resident Bill Pratt said he made use of the shelter during the outage, but went back home at night to take care of his pets.“On Thursday I came back to the shelter to find that it had closed during mid-day, but I certainly wanted to be there,” Pratt said. “I got on the phone and called 211 and found out Canton still had a shelter going. I needed to recharge my cell phone, get a cup of coffee and warm myself up.”Pratt said he did see several homeless residents during the course of the week at the Winsted shelter.“The shelter was set up because of an errant snowstorm that knocked out everything in town, including the soup kitchen, which people rely on to get food,” Pratt said. “It knocked out their ability to function as residents of this community. We have the responsibility to take care of people in need in this town. Fire Chief Bob Shopey disagreed with Forster, Budahazy and Pratt.“I take offense from these comments that the town did not respond properly,” Shopey said. “I know public works was out there for many days clearing the roadways. The firefighters manned their stations for 24 hours a day for seven days. The police department was out there, the selectmen were out there, there were many volunteers out there. They all did the best they could based on the situation they faced and situations we have never faced before. To say that we did not respond properly is offensive to us volunteers and employees.”Resident Lisa Knox told the selectmen that the town needs better emergency planning.“I know we got stung by this storm, but we need to work things out,” Knox said. “We had a lot of elderly people at the shelter. It needs to be much more organized. As for the food, all the town officials that were serving the food did a good job. I’m just saying we need to be more organized.”“We did the best we could with what we had,” Smith said.

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