Saturday, November 10, 2012

Homeland Security chief reviews Connecticut storm damage

Homeland Security chief reviews Connecticut storm damage

by Dave Collins,
November 1st 2012

After touring Connecticut's storm-battered shoreline by helicopter Thursday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the federal government will be offering as much help as it can to those who own homes and businesses.

"It's one thing to hear about damage. It's another thing to see it and to understand the impact on people as they go through this," Napolitano said at a news conference in Bridgeport at Housatonic Community College after surveying damage in New York earlier in the day. "And some have been through it a couple of times, so that's really a tough situation."

Napolitano was joined by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other government officials during her second visit to Connecticut in 14 months. She also toured areas damaged by the remnants of Hurricane Irene in East Haven in September 2011.

Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast hard on Monday. In Connecticut, the storm destroyed houses, knocked down scores of trees and utility wires, flooded neighborhoods along Long Island Sound and left hundreds of thousands of residents in the dark.

Napolitano said damage assessments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency would begin in Connecticut on Friday, three days after President Barack Obama signed a major disaster declaration for the state's four shoreline counties.

"We will continue to work the storm hard," Napolitano said. "We need to be helping people get back in their homes. We need to be helping communities get restored. We need to make sure that the infrastructure of this state is made whole."

She also said government officials understand that people want their lives to return to normal as soon as possible.

During Thursday's tour, Malloy urged Napolitano to extend federal aid to the four northern counties as well. Northern parts of the state didn't see flooding like the shoreline, but many areas were without power after trees and wires were knocked down.

The amount of federal disaster aid the state will receive won't be known until after federal officials complete their assessment.

Napolitano and Malloy were joined Thursday by Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and the state's entire congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. Joe Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal and U.S Reps. Jim Himes, Rosa DeLauro, Chris Murphy, John Larson and Joe Courtney.

"The spectacle of disaster is staggering," said Blumenthal, who has been touring damaged neighborhoods along the coast this week.

Laneice Gamble, a 19-year-old student at Housatonic Community College, said she was glad Napolitano toured the state because it was important for her to see the damage.

"They need to help people," Gamble said.

She said many of her friends are still living without electricity.

"They can't wash or cook or anything," Gamble said.

Many shoreline residents, including Mayor Finch, said this week that they didn't believe utility companies were responding fast enough. Some people said Wednesday that many trees and wires were still down and they hadn't seen utility or tree crews.

Malloy said he understood people's frustration, and he would be holding Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating responsible like he did after Irene and last year's freak October snowstorm. Both those storms knocked out power to more than 800,000 homes and businesses, and the two companies were criticized for taking too long to restore electricity.

"There is no free pass for either of these companies," Malloy said. "There will be more than enough time to analyze what they have and have not done. We're going to hold them accountable."

Malloy also said he was confident there would be no problems with voting across the state in Tuesday's election.

"We are going to have an election," the governor said.

Nearly 350,000 homes and businesses in Connecticut were still without power Thursday. About 25,900 outages remained in Bridgeport, or about 46 percent of customers in the state's largest city.

Robert Mallozzi III, the first selectman of New Canaan, said nobody has been staying in a local YMCA designated as a shelter, but he expects demand to spike as temperatures drop. He said officials are bracing for freezing temperatures and even the possibility of snow.

"Boy, oh boy, that's frightening," he said. "We're very concerned, no doubt about it."

Two-thirds of the customers in New Canaan were still without power Thursday afternoon, and Mallozzi said crews are still removing hazardous wires. He said restoration efforts likely wouldn't begin until Friday.

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