(Updated) “Are you aware of the mandatory evacuation?” asked Lt. Michael Pozika as the first rains of Hurricane Irene fell on a flood-prone street.
“We’re shipping the kids out,” responded Ernie Wrightington, but he planned to stay behind to pump out the basement and ward off looters.
“We’ve got a boat in the garage,” Wrightington explained. “If we need to float somewhere, we’ll float somewhere.”
The exchange took place as 20 firefighters and a half-dozen cops hit the streets in Morris Cove Saturday evening to encourage neighbors to leave the neighborhood.
The door-knocking campaign targeted 466 homes that Mayor John DeStefano ordered evacuated by 7:30 p.m. Saturday in advance of Hurricane Irene. By campaign’s end, the teams had made reached 458 of the homes. About 40 percent of people had already left, 30 percent were about to leave, and 30 percent were staying put, according to Assistant Fire Chief Pat Egan.
The campaign came just half a day before hurricane-force winds were set to pummel the shoreline at predicted speeds of over 74 miles per hour. The most dangerous aspect of the storm, said Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts, was the combination of heavy rainfall—8 inches are predicted to fall in 12 hours—combined with a lunar tide, during which the harbor fills with an extra foot of water. The net result will be a storm surge of between 6 and 8 feet above normal high tide.
Twenty firefighters spread out in teams to let neighbors know the risk.
Pozika pulled on firefighters’ turnout bunker pants and climbed into a white Ford Crown Victoria with private Silverio Rivera and Lt. Karl Luschenat at 6:30 p.m. Pozika, who grew up in the neighborhood, sat in the navigator’s seat.
As they passed a package store, Luschenat spotted a couple of firefighters talking to the owner of a package store. Luschenat picked up the loudspeaker microphone.
“No drinking!” he teased as they passed by.
Their first stop was Morris Causeway, where Ernie Wrightington opened the door. That street floods in modest rainstorms. Wrightington said he was sending his kids away, but planned to stay behind to protect his home.
“We’re worried about looting,” Wrightington said.
Pozika heard that concern at several doorsteps. He developed a response: “The National Guard is down here and there’s heavier police presence. It’s going to be hard [for criminals] to get down here.”
Looting was one of several concerns Pozika heard as he and Luschenat wound their way around Dean Street, which is exposed to flooding from Morris Creek. The firefighters alerted residents to a “mandatory evacuation,” and offered transportation to an emergency shelter at Benjamin Jepson School not too far away on Lexington Avenue.
“I don’t want to spend my night as a refugee,” said one man.
“My puppy isn’t house-trained,” said a woman, who lives alone with her dog.
“My mom won’t leave, so I’ve got to stay,” said another woman. It turned out her mom, Alderwoman Arlene DePino, was staying put to help neighbors deal with the storm.
“We’re having a Hurricane Party!” came the warm welcome at another home, where a half-dozen people were gathered around a table of 1800 tequila and cupcakes. They invited the firefighters in for a bite. They declined, and took their names and information instead.
The six people said they weren’t going anywhere.
Enrico Diamentini said he was staying to tend to the basement, which would almost surely flood.
“I have to be there to pump it out,” he said.
Other Morris Cove neighbors decided to heed the order to evacuate.
Chuck Mascola boarded up his home and headed to Guilford Saturday after a call about 100-mile-an-hour winds hitting his beachfront property. His neighbors decided to stay put.
Mascola (pictured at his home at 180 Cove St.) lives in one of 466 homes that Mayor John DeStefano ordered evacuated by Saturday at 7:30 p.m., on the eve before Hurricane Irene hits.
He said he ran across DeStefano at 7 a.m. Saturday, strolling the beach outside his home. Mascola said that at that point, he wasn’t planning to leave.
“I was feeling pretty brave,” Mascola said. He had confidence in his Land Rover. But when he heard about sustained winds of 100 miles per hour, he changed his mind.
In a press conference Saturday, Mayor John DeStefano announced that people in deluge-prone Morris Cove homes must leave before sundown, or they’ll put themselves and their families “at extreme risk” in the impending storm.
With Hurricane Irene threatening a storm surge of 4 to 6 feet, DeStefano ordered a mandatory evacuation of 466 Morris Cove homes. He made the declaration at a 3 p.m. press conference at the East Shore firehouse at Townsend Avenue and Lighthouse Road.
Hurricane Irene is expected to dump heavy rain on the area starting at 10 p.m. Saturday, causing a deluge in Morris Cove, which is known to flood even in storms of modest size.
The storm is set to make landfall in Stamford at 11 a.m. Sunday as a Category 1 Hurricane, just at the time of a lunar high tide, which is 1 foot higher than normal high tides, DeStefano said. Hurricane-force winds are due to start at 7 a.m. Sunday.
“At that level of flooding, this area becomes nearly impassable,” DeStefano said.
DeStefano said the city won’t force people out of their homes, but he warned people who chose to stay that “it will be extremely difficult” for emergency vehicles to reach them.
DeStefano urged Morris Covers to find friends or family to stay with on higher ground. Those who don’t have a place to stay can go to two emergency shelters: King Robinson School on 154 Fournier St. and Benjamin Jepson Magnet School on 15 Lexington Ave. Hillhouse High is no longer being used as an emergency center.
After a call from the mayor, Mascola and his wife and two kids decided to visit friends in a wooded home in Guilford, away from the shore.
Mascola’s house sits 5 feet above sea level. The storm surge is set to bring water up to 12 to 14 feet above sea level, according to DeStefano.
Mascola said his home survived the hurricanes of 1938 and 1955, and is well protected by a jetty in Morris Cove.
“I don’t think we’ll get the surge, but I’m not going to be around to find out.”
As he got ready to leave, Mascola left a row boat tied to a tree—for his neighbors who chose to stay, in case they need to get out.
Further down Cove Street, Oscar Straw returned to the house with bags of groceries. He said he learned from a cop about the mandatory evacuation. As of 4 p.m., he was “on the fence” about whether to stay or go.
Straw just moved into the house as a tenant in March. Asked if he boarded up his windows, he said “my landlord’s out of town.” A member of the U.S. Coast Guard, he said he’ll probably tough out the storm where he is.
Firefighters gathered at quarter to 6 p.m. at the Nathan Hale School to prepare a door-knocking campaign to encourage folks to leave.
Meanwhile, Officer Matt Wynne made the announcement through a police megaphone.
“Attention: A hurricane-related surge of water will arrive with tomorrow’s high tide. A mandatory evacuation is under way. Failure to comply will place you and your family at extreme risk.”
After a discussion with Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts, Berny Meadows flat out refused to leave her home at 169 South End Rd.
“I’m not going to evacuate,” she declared. While some Morris Covers said they were staying to protect pets, Meadows offered a different reason: The potential of storm-savvy looters hitting her home.
“I’m not going to leave because they’re putting it on the news that Morris Cove is empty,” she said. “That might be a free-for-all.”
The following streets in Morris Cove are under mandatory evacuation order:
Concord Street (South of Burr)
Lighthouse Point Road
Morris Cove Road
South End Road
Townsend (South of Burr)