A storm of uncommon fury
Area resonates to May 27 assault by Mother Nature
The ferocious storm that whipped through the region May 27 -- possibly a tornado -- knocked down hundreds of trees, blocked dozens of roads, closed schools in two districts and deprived some 12,000 customers at least temporarily of electric power.
The storm also was blamed for the death of a New Milford man, who apparently was electrocuted when a power line fell on his car.
Kevin Mateer, 49, of New Milford, was driving eastbound on Van Car Road shortly after 7 p.m. when live wires fell on his car, police said.
The car caught fire, and it is believed Mateer was shocked as he tried to escape the flames, police said.
Joshua Norton, of New Milford, was working in Danbury when his wife called to tell him to avoid Grove Street on the way home. Still, he was unprepared for what he saw as he neared home.
"It was crazy," said Norton, who lives on Park Lane (Route 202). "Trees were twisted and torn up. The tree at the end of our driveway cracked in half, blocking the drive.
"My wife said she heard thunder," he added, "and then a loud crack and crash. It looks like a tornado hit."
Weather officials suspected the same thing.
They arrived May 28 to inspect storm damage, hoping to determine whether the storm was a twister or a sudden and intense downdraft known as a microburst.
Whatever the determination, there was no doubt of the storm's severity. Beginning about 7 p.m., high winds cracked, split and felled whole trees, blocking roads and bringing down power lines.
Storm damage closed roads all over town. Downed trees were responsible for most closures, but a mudslide closed Grove Street from the Sports Club to Addis Park.
The street remained partly obstructed, with one lane alternating directions, well into the next afternoon.
Authorities were hard- pressed to keep up with calls about downed wires.
Water Witch Hose Co. No. 2 firefighters responded to 28 calls in the 90 minutes after the storm hit, and stayed busy for hours afterward.
"Things quieted down about 11 p.m.," said Jim Ferlow, Water Witch fire chief.
The storm knocked out power to thousands of customers.
At the height of the outage, about 8 p.m., 44 percent of New Milford customers -- about 6,100 households -- were affected, Connecticut Light & Power said.
All of Bridgewater, a town of 1,800, went dark, as did large swaths of Roxbury, Washington and Southbury,
Power outages and washed-out roads forced closure of schools in New Milford and the Region 12 towns of Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington.
By May 28 at 4 p.m., power had been restored to most customers. Some 400 customers in New Milford were still affected at that point, however, as were others in Roxbury.
Town officials wondered whether CL&P's closure of its Park Lane work center earlier this year, when 24 employees moved to Newtown, might have delayed the response to calls for help.
Mitch Gross, CL&P spokesman, said the company's response would be assessed at the end of the cleanup, but he suggested the main impediment to quick restoration of power was the sheer breadth of the storm's track.
"As you know, there is extensive damage from New Milford through Roxbury and down to Southbury with broken poles, lines down," Gross said. "These are all serious conditions that take time to clean up."
Mayor Pat Murphy warned residents to use extreme caution around downed wires.
"We're still telling people, anywhere you see a wire down, don't touch it," Murphy said. "Call CL&P or dial 911 and report it.
"And, for everybody's safety," she said, "if a wire falls on your car, stay inside. Do not try to exit the vehicle. Wait till help arrives."
As authorities grappled with damage left by the storm, residents marveled at its incredible power.
Art Vandeling, showing pictures taken with his iPhone, said sheets of wind-driven rain buffeted his home along Great Brook Road.
"It was hell," he said. "The rain was intense. The trees were blowing crazy. I was really concerned for my safety."
Evelyn Crandell, who had flown in to New York that night after a weekend hiking the Grand Canyon, missed the storm but not the aftermath.
"On my way driving home, I saw trees down, wires down," Crandell said. "The storm was over, but I got home and had no power."
For more photos, visit www.newmilfordspectrum.com.