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Recovery Efforts Grind Along; 130,000 Without Power

Firefighters Attend Funeral Of Easton Fire Lieutenant Killed Clearing Debris During Storm

By BRIAN DOWLING The Hartford Courant
November 3, 2012

As Connecticut's main utilities pushed on toward their fast-approaching restoration deadlines, the state paused Saturday to salute a fallen firefighter who was killed Monday clearing debris from Sandy's damaging winds.

Hundreds of firefighters from around the region attended the funeral service at Notre Dame Roman Catholic church in Easton to remember Lt. Russell F. Neary, 55, president of Easton's fire company, who served for 10 years. He was killed by a falling tree.

Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating report a total of under 130,000 outages remaining. They have restored power to 80 percent of customers that were without at the storm's peak.

Airlifted reinforcements arrived Saturday, when a massive C5A Galaxy cargo plane landed in Chicopee at Westover Air Reserve Base Saturday, loaded with four line trucks, a pickup and one other vehicle, along with crews to staff them. The delivery, from Washington state, was orchestrated by FEMA and CL&P, as an effort to beef up the utility's ground force.

More information is available for customers hungry to know when the lights will be back on. UI gave municipal leaders town-by-town estimates on Friday, and CL&P launched an online system where customers could enter their zip code to find what information might be available on restoration times:

Although the number of outages continues to drop, the race to Monday and Tuesday deadlines will still be tough, as the utilities enter the slow-moving tail-end of the restoration. UI said that it has been hitting its daily goals and Saturday expects to restore power to an additional 15,000 to 20,000 customers.

The utilities are completing most large circuits and moving to smaller system hookups where less people are attached to each power line.

"The challenge today is ... we're getting to the point where the re-energization of service is not those big, large blocks" but smaller areas, said Michael West, a spokesman for UI, which serves much of southwestern Connecticut.

CL&P still had about 300 blocked roads Saturday morning, down from 5,000. The utility still needs to deal with 477 broken poles and 78 miles of downed wire, a spokesman said Saturday morning.

An infusion of line workers that the utility received Saturday should help CL&P achieve those goals. At midday, the utility had about 2,200 outside line workers, up sharply from 1,800 yesterday. UI has said that its staffing is sufficient and isn't seeking additional crews.

At both power companies, executives showed calm resolve and confidence they would meet their deadlines: 98 percent of CL&P customers restored by Tuesday, and 95 percent at UI by the end of the day Monday. To get there CL&P, needs to restore power to 73,000, and UI 25,000.

"We understand that this is a challenging time for our customers," said Bill Quinlan, CL&P's senior vice president for emergency preparedness, "particularly as the temperatures start to drop."

CL&P crossed a milestone Friday — 10 percent of customers still without power. The number of "critical facilities" still out of power in CL&P's footprint, as defined by the towns and given to the company, numbered 183 at midday Friday, down from 300 the day before.

Saturday morning, there were just five towns with more than 50 percent of customers out, most in Fairfield County, near Wilton, the highest, at 67 percent.

At UI, which covers 17 cities and towns including Bridgeport and New Haven, a total of 41,000, or 13 percent, remained out of power on Saturday.

Also Saturday, Metro-North's New Haven line resumed regularly scheduled service between New Haven and Grand Central Station. Service on the New Canaan, Danbury and Waterbury branches is suspended, as repairs are underway.

'Running Out Of Clean Clothes'

Madison Coffee Shop was a meeting place Saturday where the topic of conversation for those with and without power remained Sandy.

"It's quite cold in our house. I've been coming down here and I've been eating out, but I'm running out of clean clothes," said Mitchell Cohan, whose Wellfleet Village complex lost power last Monday. "It's getting tiring."

Outages in the town dropped from 58 percent to 34 percent overnight. The utility told residents it is prioritizing efforts in the most populated areas, Cohan said.

But after warmth and enjoying a bagel, Cohan was delighted to return home and find the lights back on.

"And I was just getting ready to go to a friend's house to shower," he said.

While the restaurant ran on a generator through Thursday, RJ Julia Booksellers across the street opened its doors for limited daylight hours Wednesday and Thursday serving customers looking for a good book and a reading light, workers said Saturday.

Five days after the storm, shoppers were still talking about Sandy and the boardwalk it washed away from Hammonasset Beach.

Save for scattered debris and a large uprooted tree on the side of the road leading up to Connecticut's largest shoreline park, some normalcy returned to Madison during the morning with the opening of Hammonasset Beach State Park.

In place of attendants and entry fees, a police officer directed the public away from a CL&P staging area at West Beach to East Beach where half a dozen men with metal detectors searched for treasures washed up by Sandy and several couples walked dogs.

Cross-country runners from Fairfield and Quinnipiac universities took advantage of the park opening to train for next week's regional NCAA qualifier.

"We would have liked to run around the whole course, but we could not," Quinnipiac Assistant Coach Chris Dickerson said. "You can tell that most of the area was under water because there's small debris all over place."

Small Power Companies

Smaller, municipal utilities around the state had the lights on days ago. In Norwich, where the city-owned utility repaired the system after the storm, total restoration took just 53 hours, according to Mike Hughes, the utility's communications manager.

"It all works because we are all part of the city," he said. "It makes the bureaucracy and cross agency communication very simple, and that's a huge advantage."

The state's casinos have seen good business in the wake of Monday's storm, which shut down the 12 casinos in Atlantic City.

Neither the Foxwoods Resort Casino nor the Mohegan Sun Casino, lost power during Sandy, and both report their hotels have been filled to capacity all week.

"We've had previous experiences with Atlantic City casinos shutting down and there is a little bit of a bump up," said Bobby Soper, the president and chief executive at Mohegan Sun. "We do see that we do get patrons that get to experience our property as an alternative, who otherwise would not have tried us out."

Courant Staff Writer Samaia Hernandez contributed to this story. An Associated Press report was also included.