Thursday morning, power and trees are still down in most towns
By Wednesday night, the National Weather Service was calling it “Post-Tropical Cyclone Isaias” and declaring that it had moved into Canada and the U.S. government would no longer be reporting on its progress.
But here in the Tri-state region, Isaias was still very much present as thousands of homes and businesses remained without power, as roads remained closed due to downed wires and other debris and as work crews continued to cut up the trees and large branches that had fallen on roads and properties.
As of Thursday morning, there were no reports of lives lost as a direct result of the storm. There were some fire calls including one on Wednesday afternoon in North Canaan that involved serious injuries. Information on the outcome of that fire was not available Thursday morning.
Gas, ice and water
Of all the area towns, the two that were blessed with a modest amount of power loss were Salisbury and Millerton. Some businesses remained open in both towns — notably the gas stations. The Getty in Millerton was overflowing with cars at mid-day on Wednesday. The nearby Cumberland Farms had yellow sacks over all the gas tank nozzles, but cars were still parked in front of each of the gas tanks and every parking space in the lot was full.
The Patco station in Lakeville also had gas (and a large number of patrons, who seemed calm, polite and patient for the most part). Cars and pickup trucks were not only filling their tanks; many customers were also filling containers to take home, perhaps to use with generators and barbecue grills.
Ice and bottled water were in big demand all day Wednesday, at gas station convenience stores and grocery stores. By mid-day most stores had sold out. By the end of Wednesday, the Lakeville Patco had also shut its pumps down.
Most grocery stores were open, but with limitations. Stop & Shop in North Canaan had only emergency lights on; the freezers and refrigerated cases were all empty. Meat, dairy, frozen foods, ice cream were unavailable but shoppers came to the store looking for ice and other essentials. Sharon Farm Market was also open with restrictions. In Salisbury, LaBonne’s was up and fully stocked, with all the lights on. By mid-afternoon, the lines were long but not remarkably so. The store had already sold out of ice by that morning.
Nearby, Salisbury village businesses such as Provisions at The White Hart and Sweet William’s bakery and cafe were open. Relaxed patrons sat at outdoor tables sipping espresso drinks and eating pastries, perhaps enjoying the opportunity to feel normal in an abnormal week.
Salisbury’s good fortune
It’s not clear how Salisbury was spared so much of the damage that hit other area towns.
First Selectman Curtis Rand said Salisbury’s power outages were in the more wooded areas, around the Twin Lakes, Cooper Hill, Salmon Kill Road, and the area around the Great Falls (known as Amesville).
Rand said as far as he knew there were no injuries. A tree did fall on a moving car at Route 44 and Salmon Kill Road but the driver was unhurt.
He said the town crew has been busy clearing trees and debris off town roads. “We’ve reopened everything we can.”
Driving around Salisbury and Falls Village between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Senior Reporter Patrick L. Sullivan observed that town road crews had been through and had cleared trees from roadways. There was a tree on the utility wires on Brinton Hill Road in Salisbury, and a pile of downed limbs encroaching on one lane of state route 126 between Routes 7 and 63.
Smells like Christmas
Lime Rock Station Road, where Sunday’s tornado had taken down an estimated hundreds of evergreens, “it smelled like the workshop at Housatonic Valley Regional High School when the FFA students and alumni are making Christmas wreaths,” Sullivan said, echoing a sentiment others had expressed.
Lime Rock Station is in Falls Village. On Wednesday morning, Falls Village First Selectman Henry Todd, reached just as he was heading out to tour the damage at about 10 a.m., said he was unaware of any injuries or serious damage to homes at that moment.
Todd said the entire town, with the exceptions of Amy Road, Kellogg Road (one side), Main Street and Beebe Hill Road, was without power. Todd said his understanding was that Eversource would start working on Canaan Mountain Road, then Undermountain Road and so on.
Driving around the region on Wednesday, an impressive amount of fallen trees and branches had already been cleared and many roads had been opened. But there was much work still to do and even by Wednesday evening it was difficult to travel from one town to another, especially with Route 7 closed between the Covered Bridge in Cornwall and Housatonic Valley Regional High School (very close to Lime Rock Station Road) in Falls Village. Sections of Route 44 were also closed, notably a part of the road that runs through the center of North Canaan.
Good and bad news, Sharon
In Sharon, an enormous tree limb had fallen on the historic Green, across from Town Hall. That section of Route 41/44 through the center of town was closed off; drivers were using the narrow, one-way Upper Main Street as a two-way alternate route.
Sharon Valley Road was closed off on Wednesday afternoon. Nearby on Rout 343, Paley’s Farm Market was open for business after having been hit hard by Sunday’s tornado. The winds from that weather event had ripped the covers off the farm’s greenhouses and twisted the metal frames. Several large trees behind the market had fallen and were being cleared up on Wednesday.
Owner Sarah (Paley) Coon and her brother, former owner and farm founder Charlie Paley, were there on Wednesday and seemed still stunned by Sunday’s damage but grateful that it hadn’t been worse.
On Sunday, the destroyed greenhouses were empty, Coon said. If the tornado had come through earlier in the year, in March or April, “That would have been it for this year,” she said ruefully.
Absence of power workers
On Wednesday, driving around the region, the usual abundance of Eversource workers and trucks was absent. Two Frontier telecommunications repair vans were spotted. Only one power company worker was seen. Eversource said the damage from Isaias ranked among the worst the state had ever experienced.
Many Northwest Corner residents still remember the October snowstorm of 2011, which dumped about 2 feet of snow statewide and left hundreds of thousands of customers without power for between 5 and 11 days.
Eversource has not yet offered estimates on when customers will be back on line.
In an email on Wednesday, the company said, “This storm’s impact, in terms of Eversource customers affected in Connecticut, is one of the largest on record. As a result, we are asking customers to prepare for multiple days without power.”
The company said on Wednesday that it was doing assessments from the air of the extent of the damage.
One Eversource worker was on Route 7 in Falls Village on Thursday morning. He pulled around into the 50 Main St. station and took a moment to speak with The Lakeville Journal’s Janet Manko.
“We are all here who are always assigned to these towns,” he said, “but it’s a lot for one guy to do. And everyone cleaning up what is like a disaster area has to be careful. There can be wires that are dangerous and you can’t see where they are.”
He said the scope of the cleanup is the worst he’s seen, even worse than following Sandy and others from recent years.
Governor, AG take action
The power company had announced a rate increase last week. Attorney General William Tong and Gov. Ned Lamont immediately expressed anger with the rate hike, which was then suspended by the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).
Some area power customers complained that,when they tried to call Eversource to report an outage, they were left on hold with a repeated message in which the power company expressed unhappiness with the decision to deny the rate hike.
Lamont declared a statewide state of emergency on Wednesday and then appealed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for a presidential emergency declaration.
“Approval of an emergency declaration would allow the state to request direct federal assistance to supplement state and local efforts to save lives and protect public health and safety during this ongoing crisis,” according to an announcement from the governor’s office.
“The governor’s request also includes a potential 75 percent federal reimbursement of Category B state and local emergency protective measures.”
Lamont also announced an investigation into Eversource and its efforts to restore power to the state. A press release on Aug. 5 said, “The governor said that the companies’ response to the storm has been wholly inadequate and does not meet the obligations for the critical resources they are responsible for providing on behalf of Connecticut residents. He wants to know what specific steps the companies took in the lead up to Tropical Storm Isaias, which had been forecast to impact Connecticut several days prior to making landfall and remained relatively on the track that meteorologists had predicted.”
The news release said Lamont is asking PURA to:
• Consider whether the utilities were adequately prepared and have the resources they need to respond to significant weather events;
• Evaluate their response and whether it met regulatory and statutory requirements;
• Determine whether resources that were invested into their outage response system was prudent in light of the recent system failures; and
• Determine whether civil penalties should be applied
Meanwhile, the governor’s office continued to offer updates on the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths, which are still rising. On Wednesday, the report said there are 1,543 confirmed cases in Litchfield County, up from 1,537 on Tuesday and 1,535 on Monday. The number of COVID-19 deaths has remained steady for several weeks at 117 in Litchfield County; and at present there is only one person reported hospitalized because of the coronavirus.
Eversource’s outage listing was not accurate at some points during the storm and in its immediate aftermath. As of Thursday morning, it seemed to be working again. At 10:30 a.m., the impact on Northwest Corner towns was reported as:
• Canaan (Falls Village), 74.07% customers affected (971 out of 1,311)
• Cornwall, 99.09% customers affected (1,200 out of 1,211)
• Kent, 90.04% customers affected (1,944 out of 2,159)
• North Canaan, 84.84% customers affected (1,248 out of 1,471)
• Salisbury, 40.45% customers affected (1,217 out of 3,009)
• Sharon, 82.48% customers affected (1,789 out of 2,169)
The list of towns and impacts can be found at https://outagemap.eversource.com. If you are able to access the internet from a computer, you can see the town-by-town listing by clicking Connecticut under Customer Outages in the menu to the left of the map. If you are on a mobile device, touch Menu, then Customer Outages, and finally Connecticut.
Some towns are offering charging stations. In Sharon, for example, charging for mobile devices was available on Wednesday at the firehouse.