(Updated) After leaving his beachfront home on evacuation orders, Chuck Mascola came home Sunday to 3 1/2 feet of water in the basement and waves lapping in his front yard.
Mascola returned to his Cove Street home Sunday as Mayor John DeStefano lifted evacuation orders on 466 flood-prone homes in Morris Cove.
“We’ll dry it out, we’ll clean it out, and we’ll go back to normal,” Mascola vowed Sunday afternoon as firefighters helped him pump out his basement and tip over a rain-filled rowboat.
The bailout capped a busy 24 hours for the city’s fire and police forces, who roved streets in heavy rain and winds tending to floods, fallen trees and downed power lines.
The Independent rode out the storm with emergency crews at Nathan Hale School, which served as an emergency staging ground for police, fire and the National Guard. Read a blog of the storm below.
9:20 p.m. Saturday
Firefighters have returned from Morris Cove streets, where they sought to convince holdouts to heed evacuation orders.
Eighteen firefighters and four members of the National Guard are here. Capt. Matt Marcarelli gives the firefighters an update.
There are 25 cots in the gymnasium and 25 more on hand. Take a moment to get some rest—you won’t get much tomorrow, he says.
Marcarelli: “We’ve got some light food coming. Frank, Lt. Ricci, is hitting the union hall to get dry T-shirts. He’s going to see if there’s any food out there, something that will more stick to your ribs.”
Frank Ricci returns with 20 pizzas, five from Abate and 15 from Grand Apizza. Grand Apizza was closed, but the owner agreed to fire up the oven and stay late “just to cook for us,” Ricci says.
The pies were paid for by Local 825, the firefighters’ union. (The ones from Abate came free.)
“Finally, my dues are paying for something,” one firefighter quips.
“Don’t get too full now, you’ve gotta save lives,” cautions Nathan Hale’s head custodian, Licia Altieri.
Power goes dark in the Nathan Hale cafeteria.
“Wow, that didn’t take long!” comes a voice from the dark.
“Here we go,” says Assistant Fire Chief Pat Egan.
“Do you need a flashlight?” custodian Altieri is asked.
“No. I could walk this school with my eyes closed,” she replies. Altieri spent her entire eight-hour shift from 4 p.m. to midnight on her feet, rolling garbage cans and cleaning different parts of the school.
“Shoes off!” she joked through the evening as dripping firefighters stepped onto the sparkling cafeteria floor.
Assistant Chief Egan, Capt. Marcarelli and the Independent hop into a Ford Expedition command vehicle to investigate the power outage.
At the scene, fire Capt. William Gambardella points with his flashlight to where a tree got tangled in power lines at Upson Terrace near Townsend Avenue. A tangled branch appears to have created a short, which in turn blew out the nearby transformer.
“When I got here, the sparks were flying down,” Gambardella says.
Moments later, UI shows up to fix the problem.
“Over a little branch? It takes out 2,000 people,” the UI technician says. He says UI hoped to restore power within the hour.
The Expedition rolls on in search of the waters reportedly swelling on Dean Street and Townsend Avenue.
The roads look OK, save for some water filling in along the stretch of Townsend that runs along the Pardee Seawall, where a storm drain is backing up.
The houses are dark—very dark.
“There ain’t a lick of power on.”
By this point, 2,477 people have lost electricity, according to UI.
The traffic light at Lighthouse Road and Townsend is out. The only glow comes from the East Shore firehouse, where a generator is going strong.
12:43 a.m. Sunday
Back at Nathan Hale, a few firefighters chat in the dark cafeteria. A firefighter emerged from the bunk room, where the rest of the crew was sleeping.
“The snoring got you?”
Power is restored to the school and the rest of the neighborhood, bringing a wave of relief and waking up a firefighter who had stretched out on a cafeteria table.
Back on the road to check out the conditions.
Water from Morris Creek is seeping across Dean Street.
“They’re gonna get slammed out here,” Marcarelli says.
A parks department crew sits in the parking lot at Krauszer’s, waiting to tend to fallen trees.
Save for one small tree, there’s not much damage yet.
A few lights are on in the homes now that the power’s back. A TV glows blue through a window.
There’s a lull in the storm.
“Did it fucking stop raining?”
The lull doesn’t last long.
Back on the road, tree parts are now strewn in the street.
A Sycamore branch blocks Elmer Street near Concord.
A parks department truck arrives to move it out of the way, but the truck has an “air leak” and needs to call for backup to get the job done.
Townsend is blocked south of Lighthouse.
“The surge is going to start coming up, so we want to have this cleared,” says a parks supervisor. “We just want to get ahead of it.”
The storm is expected to bring a surge of 4 to 6 feet at 11 a.m., just when an extra-full lunar tide is hitting its highest mark.
Capt. Gambardella (pictured) reports a line down at 18 South End Rd., near the border with East Haven. A branch brought down a line that brings electricity from the power line to the house. It’s the homeowner’s responsibility to fix the line, not the utility company. But the situation could be dangerous with a live wire on the ground. The people in the home may not be safe.
“Chief Grant said we should pull them out” of the house, Gambardella reported.
At the house, Gambardella reports there’s only one man in the house, and he will head on foot to a neighbor’s place.
A man from 1B Townsend Ave. shows up and asks to seek shelter. His power went out when a line got ripped down between his house and the power lines.
Off to the Emergency Operations Center, where city officials are gathering for the first briefing of the day.
City officials will be checking out culverts, bridges and tidal gates before the hurricane-force winds strike.
Mayor John DeStefano says the city will be meeting with accountants later Sunday. All emergency expenses are being documented; the city plans to request reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
As of 5 a.m., the following streets are closed:
- Middletown Avenue north of Front Street to Dump Road
- Olive and Wooster
- Quinnipiac Avenue between Hemingway and Essex
- Brewery and Water
- Olive and Water
- Hemingway between Eastern and Russell
- Morris Causeway
“Irene is making landfall now,” announced a broadcaster on one of several TVs.
Down in the tunnel below City Hall, it’s already clear the storm had escalated. Rain blows in from outside.
On the highway back to Morris Cove, the rain is pelting down now.
“This is it!” says Egan.
Reports are coming quicker on the scanner now: A tree is down on Edwards Street in East Rock, blocking the street.
On Hervey Street, two trees have cracked in half.
Back at Nathan Hale, a dozen cops are now waiting in the dry cafeteria, awaiting their release at the end of their shift.
Chief Egan and Capt. Marcarelli confer over which firefighters will stay on and which will go.
“I need 40 guys,” Egan says into a cell phone.
He finds his guys and dispatches them to go out around Morris Cove and see how bad the damage is.
Lt. Michael Pozika, who’s been on duty since 7 a.m. Saturday, is assigned to show the National Guard around the neighborhood where he grew up. Four National Guard members are here from Orange, where they’re part of the 103rd Air Control Squadron of the U.S. Air Force.
National Guard members pull on an extra pair of camouflage pants and show firefighters the way to their vehicles.
They climb into two Stewart Stevenson 5-ton trucks, which can plow through floods with 4 1/2 feet clearance underneath.
A firefighter brings in a pile of life jackets.
Lt. Pozika and the National Guard return with sandwiches and coffee from Krauszer’s, which seems to be the only store open in the vicinity.
Wires have fallen down at Sen. Martin Looney’s house at 132 Fort Hale Rd. (Looney’s home was not in the mandatory evacuation zone.)
Marcarelli and Egan head out for another storm survey.
A tree has fallen across Fort Hale Road at Townsend.
Morris Causeway has been closed to traffic.
The National Guard is helping a kid who flagged them down because his car got stranded.
In other homes, people are peering out of garage and living room windows.
The parking lot of Silver Sands Beach Club (across the East Haven line) is swimmable.
“The wind is moving the car,” says Marcarelli.
Egan gets a voicemail from Frank LaDore, a civil service commissioner. A tree out front of his home at 63 Ley St. cracked in half, falling into his yard. His more urgent concern was the backyard, where a 100-foot tree (pictured) was leaning on another one, threatening to topple that tree and crush a house on Concord.
“We’ve got to evacuate them,” Egan says.
Storm-gazers have appeared along the Pardee Seawall on Townsend. They’re getting close to the waterfront, then running away as 15-foot waves crash over their heads.
Back at Nathan Hale, police have gotten wind of the “gawkers” at the seawall. They dispatch a police car to clear them away.
The water is rising—high tide is 11:06 a.m.
National Guard members load wooden rowboats into their 5-ton truck.
“We might need them” to help Haven Street residents escape a flood.
Firefighters and National Guard members report they didn’t need the boats. Firefighters instead cut a hole in a fence to rescue Haven Street residents from floodwaters.
The brunt of the storm appears to have passed. The only thing to watch for now is 60-mile-an-hour winds on the tail end of the hurricane.
After bracing for the worst, Morris Cove appears to have emerged from the storm with remarkably little damage. Trees were the main victims. Few trees appear to have caused property damage.
With the East Shore under control, the National Guard and some New Haven firefighters head to nearby East Haven, where floods have completely swept away four homes.
Back in Morris Cove, Engine 16 from the East Shore firehouse is parked outside Chuck Mascola’s home.
While he was gone, the high tide pushed water up through the storm drain, flooding Cove Street. The water went up the hill. Then gravity pulled it back down, into Mascola’s yard.
At 10 a.m. Sunday, his sister surveyed his home. The grass was flooded with water.
“There were waves in the yard,” Mascola says. The basement had 3 1/2 feet of water in it.
Mascola pumped the water out for hours with his sump pump. Now firefighters are pitching in with theirs, sending the water into the storm drain—this time in the right direction. They also help him tip over a boat he had left in case his neighbors needed to row to safety.
Mascola, who’s lived in the house for 16 years, remains optimistic.
He says he has friends in East Haven, where over a dozen homes were destroyed by the storm surge. Mascola says he’ll have to replace only a furnace and a water heater.
“Nobody got hurt. Nobody died,” he says. “I’m grateful.”