Cleanup continues after storm's 'widespread disaster'

NEW MILFORD — Cleanup from tropical storm Isaias continues more than a week after it swept through the state with heavy winds and rains that downed trees and caused road closures and power outages.

Thousands of households and businesses were left without power in the New Milford area Aug. 4, and many still remained without power on Tuesday.

Several towns, including New Milford, Kent, Bridgewater, Roxbury, Sherman, Washington, declared a state of emergency.

Following the storm, about 74 percent of New Milford was without power. Nearly all of Bridgewater, Roxbury, Kent, Sherman and Washington were without power.

First Selectman Barbara Henry said the storm caused “widespread disaster” in Roxbury and created power outages.

Henry said it appeared Eversource was “overloaded” after the storm.

“No calls are going through their 800 number,” she said. “I just told people to stay home, stay home and ride it out until we can really assess the damage.”

As of Monday, only 300 remained without power in Roxbury, Henry said.

Bridgewater First Selectman Curtis Read said wires were down across town, while trees fell through roofs.

“Seems the closer you were to the New York border, you probably got the most impact from the storm,” he said.

“It was a rough week last week and it’s still a rough week,” Kent First Selectman Jean Speck said Monday.

Restaurants in the area that had been closed or had limited business in the spring due to pandemic restrictions were flooded with customers after the storm, with residents seeking a cool place to go, charge their devices and get food.

Charging and water stations popped up outside places such as fire stations, churches, town buildings and businesses with power in New Milford and surrounding towns in the days that followed the storm.

The coronavirus pandemic added challenges for the traditional locations such as libraries, town halls or community centers that open generally open for residents to charge their devices and find relief in air conditioning following summer storms. Most of these places have been closed to the public or allow restricted access since March.

The National Guard delivered bottled water to several towns, including New Milford and Kent.

Water Witch Hose Co. #2 in New Milford announced water was being distributed to those still without water the following day, and Meals Ready to Eat continued to be available at the 8 Prospect Hill Road (Route 67) firehouse.

The fire department issued a statement on social media Sunday encouraging those whose streets remained blocked by downed trees and power lines to reach out to the department so members can “try to get to you.”

Mayor Pete Bass announced Monday morning that New Milford High School on Route 7 South would be open for residents to use the athletic department’s showers.

Speck said Monday the delay of response from Eversource is “very, very frustrating,” especially since the town did everything it needed to do to be guaranteed a makesafe crew.

Although “significant process has been made in the last 12 to 18 hours,” 22 percent of Kent remained without power as of Monday afternoon.

Speck expressed concern over future storms, noting forecasters have called for a very active hurricane season. Being in the middle of a pandemic and having such widespread damage and delayed response time for assistance creates concern for what might happen with future storms.

Eversource officials warned local leaders before the storm that restoration might take longer than usual as crews continue to adhere to coronavirus safety guidelines, including social distancing and more sanitation.

This storm also caused more power outages than Superstorm Sandy, with the strong winds causing “historic damage” and affecting customers in all 149 communities Eversource serves, said Michael Hayhurst, the company’s vice president of electric operations in Connecticut.

“We recognize how difficult it is to be without electricity especially while many people continue working from home during the pandemic,” Hayhurst said. “Our crews will continue working until every customer has power back while also complying with stringent pandemic protocols.”

Sherman First Selectman Don Lowe said the town did “an outstanding job” readying for Eversource crews to come in and “power up the town.”

“We’ve did all of the clearing early on,” Lowe said. “Our public works crews worked around the clock and the fire department did a marvelous job securing roads and helping people.”

Lowe said nearly all of Sherman lost power. As of Tuesday morning — a full week after the storm — 26 percent of the town was still without power.

Like other leaders across the state, Lowe expressed disappointment in how Eversource managed recovery efforts, citing poor communication with public officials and an inefficient reporting system for power outages.

The first selectman noted he had already fielded about 50 phone calls from those still without power within a three-hour period Tuesday.

Despite the frustrations that have permeated over the past week-plus in towns, Speck said some positive things have surfaced in Kent.

The town’s new Citizens Emergency Response Team set up a charging station outside town hall the day after the storm. Since then, volunteers at the station have served thousands of people.

“One of the CERT volunteers said (the station) has been so amazing,” Speck related. “The number of people from the public who just want to charge their devices and then get into great conversations with the volunteers.”

“It’s one of the shining stars out of this whole mess,” Speck said.

Washington First Selectman Jim Brington praised his town’s Public Works Department crew and the dedicated Eversource staff who restored 70 percent of the power and nearly 100 percent of the road closures, as of Monday.

“It’s the single most amazing thing,” he said.

He also cited the community outreach, relating the number of emails and calls he has received from residents not necessarily issuing a complaint, but passing along information about someone who needs help.

Staff writers Katrina Koerting, Kendra Baker, Dan Nowak, Julia Perkins and Peter Yankowski contributed to this report.