Firefighters Confront Morris Cove Holdouts

Melissa Bailey Photo(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.

Shipping Out

Other Morris Cove neighbors decided to heed the order to evacuate.

Melissa Bailey PhotoChuck 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:

Anthony Drive
Alden St
Alfred Street
Arden Street
Beecher Street
Bristol Street
Cart Street
Concord Street (South of Burr)
Cove Street
Dean Street
Doty Street
Douglass Street
Eden Street
Elmer Elmer
Florence Street
Ira Street
Kirkham Street
Lighthouse Point Road
Mansion Street
Marion Street
Meadowview Street
Morris Cove Road
Morris Cswy
Myron Street
Nelson Street
Parker Place
Shorham Street
South End Road
Townsend (South of Burr)
Uriah Street



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posted by: Morris Cove Mom on August 27, 2011  6:03pm

Doesn’t this seem a bit premature?  Where are we all supposed to go?

posted by: Blame the Mayor on August 27, 2011  6:47pm

Wait till November and the headline will be:
‘Morris Cove Orders Mayor to Evacuate’!

Come’n get me Johnny Boy, you’ll never take me alive!

posted by: Jon Doe on August 27, 2011  7:03pm

@ Morris Cove Mom

Head on over to the Mayor’s House, Hurricane Irene Party at the Mayor’s house Everyone…....

posted by: newhavenconcernedparent on August 27, 2011  7:07pm

This is crazy!there is too many people to go into two small ass schools in new haven.

Be safe!

posted by: To cove mom on August 27, 2011  7:28pm

Answers to your questions: 1- no don’t leave, wait until the storm begins and THEN try evacuating. 2- you are supposed to go to a friends home, in a safer area.. ... Then you can go to one of the two sites they listed in the article ...

posted by: Common Sense on August 27, 2011  7:35pm

What do you expect them to do, wait until you’re in the middle of the storm and the surge has happened?  They told you where to go.  Family, friends, a shelter…anywhere but where you are.

posted by: Noteworthy on August 27, 2011  9:15pm

I have been in Cat 3 hurricanes. This is a whimper and is much ado about damn little. This storm will barely break a Cat 1. The flooding will be gone in a couple of hours. The idea that people have to evacuate for their safety is such a red herring it is a disservice. but hey, this is an election year so there the mayor is pretending to be concerned, complete with human props.

Meanwhile…the real story is another dead body. This one in Wooster neighborhood. Meanwhile, I get yet another print assault in the mail from DeStefano telling me he’s investing in safety and jobs. lol..the only thing that has botten bigger and bolder over the last 18 years is the amount of hubris and arrogance he has to make such claims.

posted by: @morris cove mom on August 27, 2011  9:22pm

Don’t say you weren’t warned when you’re trapped by water and emergency crews take an eternity to reach you.

posted by: Ora on August 27, 2011  10:09pm

Finally the mayor shows some concern for the East Shore. A little too late to retrieve votes mayor.

posted by: AJ on August 27, 2011  10:29pm

Please just take this into account: CT has Never been hit with a huricane at high tide before… This will be the first! Be safe and god bless!

posted by: Morris Cove Mom on August 27, 2011  10:41pm

To everyone commenting on my comments: What I’m saying that it is hard to listen to a Mayor that has continually lied and misled us.  If he had more credibility, I would listen to him.  Same thing goes for the police, too.

posted by: East Rocker on August 27, 2011  10:55pm

The TV stations are still listing Hillhouse as one of New Haven’s shelters.  If someone at the City is reading this, please tell the folks at the TV stations that the shelter was moved to King-Robinson.  (Assuming this article is correct.)

posted by: Noteworthy on August 27, 2011  11:22pm

If this is real urgency - people should have been told a couple of days ago like NYC and NJ. Waiting until the hurricane is getting ready to hit is hardly good planning. I mean come on - they were evacuating the OBX on Wednesday and Irene didn’t hit until today (Saturday). This is one of those “You’re doing a heckofa job” moments.

posted by: RBISHOP on August 28, 2011  12:03am


posted by: Pedro Soto on August 28, 2011  8:53am

Morris Cove Mom, I’m surprised at your flippant response to this considering you are generally pretty level headed. What possible reason would the mayor have to “lie and mislead” during a hurricane to get people to evacuate? Do you think he is going to break into your house and fill out your absentee ballot?

Do you think that he is not getting professional emergency advice from first responders?

I’m amazed just how people cant untie their politics with the possible danger involved. This is like the ONE TIME to put that aside and listen to authorities.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you remain safe! Good luck and take care.

posted by: Paul R on August 28, 2011  11:56am

Anyone who refuses to ignore a mandatory evacuation order should be arrested and evacuated to JAIL!  Anyone who ignores a suggested evacuation should be charged the full cost of their rescue if they end up needing help!

posted by: Edward Francis on August 28, 2011  3:32pm

It looks like the Monday Morning Quarterbacks will have all the answers as usual…the real quarterback and his team did a great job in handling all aspects of Hurricane Irene.

posted by: Noteworthy on August 28, 2011  4:12pm

I told you so sounds so delicious. You’re doing a heckofa job Chicken Little. This ranks right up there with faux school reform; fake need for more and bigger schools and claims of extraordinary increases in CMTs; blaming others for problems this administration created; promises to city workers for which DeStefano can’t pay; and promises of better safety and of course jobs when the unemployment rate is 20% and there are so many bodies in the street, even reporters are finding them faster than the cops.

There is nothing this mayor won’t pimp - from elevators for the elderly to relatively small storms in order to pretend he’s thinking of us more often than at tax time.

posted by: resident on August 29, 2011  11:39am

We held out and there was no damage, no flooding and a temporary power outage on Dean St.  We care for our homes and were more afraid of looting than flooding.  We also had pumps and generators to keep going in case of power outages. If I was elderly, disabled or had medical problems, I would have been the first to evacuate.

Ironic, DeStefano drove by our home around noon and just said “how are you guys doing?”.  What do you think Johnny, could be doing better, specially if you wouldn’t be our mayor and pretending at the last minute that you care about your old neighborhood.

We actually didn’t find out about any mandatory evacuation until 4:00 pm when a friend called me. We decided to stay put knowing the risk and taking many precautions and we were very lucky to have no damage at all from Irene.

New Haven, please do us all a favor.  Vote for a new mayor.  Vote at the primary Sept. 13th.