Aftermath of storm focuses frustration on CL&P

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., Sep. 6, 2011
Crews from New Hampshire, Tennessee and Quebec started filing in to the Brooklyn Fairgrounds on Wednesday, Aug. 31, to help resotre power following damage by tropical storm Irene. Photos by D. Coffey.
Crews from New Hampshire, Tennessee and Quebec started filing in to the Brooklyn Fairgrounds on Wednesday, Aug. 31, to help resotre power following damage by tropical storm Irene. Photos by D. Coffey.

Connecticut Light & Power spokesperson Janine Saunders answered a few stormy calls when she went live on WINY radio on Sept. 2 with show host Paul Coutu. By then, many CL&P customers in northeastern Connecticut had been without power for five days following tropical storm Irene. The lack of running water and electricity, coupled with a general lack of information on power restoration, ramped up frustration levels across the county.

Callers wanted to know why there was such a long delay in getting power restored, why CL&P hadn't been better prepared for the storm, and where the CL&P crews were. One caller said she hadn't seen a CL&P truck all week.

Saunders assured listeners that just because they didn't see the crews didn't mean they weren't working on the problem. Crews were assigned to work on the major distribution lines first, she said. Once those were fixed, work would proceed to the lesser lines, until all power was restored. Approximately 1,500 crews were being brought in to the state to deal with the power outages, Saunders said. Crews from Washington state, Tennessee, Kansas, New Hampshire, British Columbia and Quebec were making their way to a staging center at the Brooklyn Fairgrounds.

“We appreciate the frustration,” she said, “but this was the perfect storm.”

Saunders attributed some of the difficulties to an above-average rainfall for the month, which swelled rivers and softened the ground, making trees more likely to fall. The storm itself delivered 4 to 5 inches of rain, as well as sustained 55 mph winds. Irene's damaging winds and rain were felt from the Carolinas into Canada. There were demands from everywhere, she said.

There were 468 disconnections in 15 towns, not including the disconnections between power lines and individual homes, Saunders said. The area suffered the most damage per capita per mile. CL&P's president and CEO, Jeff Butler, estimated the restoration costs to run close to $75 million.

“We knew a potential restoration might be a week or more,” Saunders said.

The automatic telephone messages sent out to CL&P customers on Saturday, Aug. 27, warned customers to be prepared to go for a few days, not a week, without power. Pomfret First Selectman Jim Rivers had spoken to WINY listeners on Sept. 1, telling them that he had learned that it could take four crews eight hours to fix one disconnection. “You do the math,” he said in a segment that was replayed over and over, on the air.

Rivers wasn't the only town leader to complain about a lack of information coming from CL&P in the aftermath of the storm. Thompson First Selectman Larry Groh, Putnam Mayor Bob Viens and Sterling First Selectman Russell Gray all called in to voice their concerns and complaints, and to share information they had gleaned from their communications with the company.

State Rep. Danny Rovero (D-51) suggested that CL&P have a meeting in every town to hear suggestions and comments from affected residents. One caller didn't want to wait for that opportunity. He suggested that in future storms, CL&P should have crews ready in each town to disconnect power so that town highway crews could start clearing roads immediately.


Lights Out!

The most frustrating thing about this power outage was the lack of information coming from CLP. The pre- recorded "we are aware of the outage in your area" message got old fast.

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