2012 in Review: Superstorm Sandy
Connecticut's proximity to the sea has traditionally been seen as a strong point, but big storms like Sandy cast shoreline living in a harsh new light. Here's a year-end report from one of the hardest-hit towns - and photos from up and down the coast.
Mara Lavitt/New Haven Register
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For some 10 days in late October and early November, the town of Fairfield’s sprawling shoreline area resembled a post-apocalyptic twilight zone: blacked-out, sand- and rubble-strewn, populated only by police at a command post set up at Veteran’s Park, uniformed National Guardsmen manning strategic checkpoints a mile from the water and, everywhere, utility and cleanup trucks.
Many Connecticut towns consider themselves “hardest-hit” by Hurricane Sandy, which slammed the East Coast on Oct. 29. The overall damage here may not have approached that of New York and New Jersey, but Greenwich, Westport, New Canaan, Redding, Fairfield, Milford, East Haven and New London all sustained heavy blows. Among them, the sheer numbers appear to tilt in Fairfield’s disfavor: Over 1,000 trees down, 1,000 homes flood-damaged, 5,000 citizens evacuated, six homes washed out to sea and more than two dozen condemned; sand burying main roads and dispersed up to half a mile from the water.
Robert Kenny, Region I emergency management coordinator for the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services & Public Protection, toured Fairfield County’s coastline towns shortly after Sandy hit with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “The area hardest-hit by the storm was Fairfield Beach,” he says. “That’s where we observed the most significant impact to families and the most residential destruction—houses damaged and off their foundations and in some cases destroyed.”
The Fairfield Beach area extends four miles, east to west from Ashford Creek on the Bridgeport line to Pine Creek on the edge of Southport, and south to north from the low-tide mark of Long Island Sound to Old Post Road, roughly a mile in from the beach. At Sandy’s height, seawater came within 100 yards of the Old Post Road and the Fairfield Town Hall.
Fairfield Beach Road, the main coastal thoroughfare here, threads the coastline for two or so miles before ending at the mouth of Pine Creek. For two weeks before and then during the storm, First Selectman Mike Tetreau, his staff, and hundreds of volunteers sent phone messages with emergency warnings to evacuate, information, updates and mandatory evacuations to 5,000 beach-area residents, along with other households in town.
The majority of homeowners in the area complied with Tetreau’s evacuation order, including Paige Herman, president of the Fairfield Beach Residents Association, who grew up on the beach near Penfield Reef and witnessed firsthand the winter storms of 1962, 1992, 1993 and Hurricane Irene last summer. “In the ’92 storm, I watched seven to eight-foot-high waves come up to the side of my house,” she says.
Tetreau made it to the town hall the day after Sandy struck, then two days later reached the beach area by vehicle. The first selectman had been able to witness the damage from a police boat that motored up Pine Creek and along the Sound, which run parallel to each other. The devastation was worse than he thought it would be, he says. “I saw one roof floating in the creek, and as we got out to the Sound we saw that houses had been washed out to sea.”