National Guard Hits Cove; Worst Appears Over

Melissa Bailey PhotoAs the expected climax of Superstorm Sandy approached, the National Guard hit New Haven’s Morris Cove—and came upon eerily quiet streets.

Floodwaters had receded, even as the 11:53 p.m. high tide was about to come in.

Forecasters were saying that Superstorm Sandy had moved inland, perhaps leading winds to die down here in New Haven.

Three members of the National Guard, based in Orange and East Granby, toured Morris Cove at 11 p.m. Monday, starting from Nathan Hale School. As during Tropical Storm Irene, the National Guard have joined police and firefighters stationed at the school.

The most important asset the National Guard brings is a colossal 5-ton truck designed for rescuing people. Last year, the Guard used one of those trucks to respond to floodwaters at East Haven’s Cosey Beach.

With reports predicting the worst of flooding on its way at high tide at midnight, Assistant Fire Chief Pat Egan and acting Battalion Chief Brian Jooss led the Guard on a tour of the most flood-prone spots of the Cove.

As they hit the streets at 11 p.m., all was eerily quiet.

Driving a department-issued Ford Expedition, Egan led the guard down Townsend Avenue, past the Pardee Morris Seawall.

If the water gets bad, Egan told the Guard through an emergency radio, Townsend “is where we’re going to get whacked.”

However, Egan and Jooss found that to their surprise, the floodwaters that had pooled outside the Townsend Avenue firehouse had receded—not risen—in the past hour, even as the tide was coming in. The street was clear.

They turned onto Meadow View Road, which had flooded early in the day, rising up to the wheels of an abandoned car.

Egan, Jooss and the Independent hopped into the Guard’s 5-ton truck to see just how bad the flooding was. 

Master Sgt. Brian Talbot took the wheel. Airman First Class Christopher Boulanger helped his passengers into the rear. He peered into the water with a flashlight.

There, again, the water that had seeped in from Morris Creek had pulled back. The floodwaters looked about 6 inches to 1 foot deep—at least half a foot lower than an hour earlier.

The Guard returned to the Nathan Hale cafeteria at 11:35 p.m. It was time to grab some dinner before the alleged impending flood.

Airman First Class Kathleen Bielecki, who had co-piloted the truck during the tour, pulled out some Easy-Mac she had bought in bulk. When they deployed, they didn’t know where they were going, or how much food there would be. She pulled out two packets of Easy-Mac for her, and another two for Boulanger.

Fire Lt. Jonathan Brown (pictured) returned at 12:30 a.m. with his crew and reported that all is quiet, with very little flooding, on the streets of Morris Cove.

The water was 3 feet below the Pardee Morris Seawall, he said.

Dean Street, a notorious street for flooding, was all clear. A minor flood his crew had seen earlier at the firehouse on Townsend had subsided.

Back at the cafeteria, Brown’s crew swept the floors. A couple of cops stopped in for a snack. The building’s head custodian had brought in hot dogs and homemade pickles from his personal supply. As the TV and police and fire radios blared, the National Guard officers lay down to try to catch some sleep.

Though the brunt of the storm appeared to have passed, long days of clean-up work loomed for city crews, from downed trees and power lines to flooding damage.

Earlier Updates

The latest information as of 9 p.m.:

Melissa Bailey Photo• Grand Avenue is flooded between Grand Paint and the railroad tracks; firefighters are knocking on doors and asking people to leave ... Front Street is closed between Grand and Lombard ...  Meadow View Street in Morris Cove is flooded.

Melissa Bailey PhotoSo is South Water Street, where waves are lapping up against the Sound School.

Melissa Bailey Photo... Cove Street flooded outside Chuck Mascola’s house.

Melissa Bailey PhotoTwo big trees fell down on Woodward Avenue, including a spruce at Hervey.

Melissa Bailey PhotoWater from the harbor spilled over onto Long Wharf Drive. ...

Melissa Bailey Photo... making Canal Dock Road impassable.

Melissa Bailey PhotoA small fire sprang up in the A/C unit on top of the Ross/Woodward School. Firefighters doused it with a dry chemical mixture, killing the flames at 7:50 p.m.

• Reports Yale University Secretary Linda Lorimer at 7 p.m.: “In the last hour, a 100-lb exhaust fan fell from the top of the Malone building, and the bus shelter outside Woolsey Hall blew out, shattering glass onto College Street. A large tree has fallen across Grove by 340 Temple, and wires are on the ground in the vicinity of Silliman and TD on Temple Street. Lower Wall Street is partially blocked with fallen branches.”

• The number of New Haveners reported without power crept up to 4,402, according to United Illuminating. The worst is yet to come.

Click here for a story and photos of the trees falling down around town.

Photo Courtesy Rob Smuts

A report from earlier today at 1:45 p.m.:

Live wires are on the ground. Trees are about to fall. Yet some drivers are still swerving around police cars—and risking their lives.

That’s the scene on Ella Grasso Boulevard northbound between Orange Avenue and Legion Avenue at 1:45 p.m., according to top Hill cop Lt. Hollly Wasilewski.

Crews are on their way to deal with the trees and block off the two northbound lanes for good, she said. Meanwhile, drivers are disobeying efforts by cops to keep the treacherous lanes closed.

“We’ve got live wires out there. I don’t know how soon [the crews] are going to come,” Wasilewski said from the scene.

If you’re driving away from the highway toward New Haven on the Boulevard, please don’t pass the light on Orange, Wasilewski urged people. Turn left onto Orange Avenue or right onto Davenport, Congress, or Washington, she said.

Better yet, she said—stay home and “batten down the hatches.”

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posted by: tonybaldwin on October 29, 2012  2:24pm

Pics, or it didn’t happen!

posted by: Charl on October 29, 2012  7:33pm

Thank you for the excellent live storm coverage, NHi!

I was perplexed as to why I saw police vehicles and roads blocked on the boulevard at approximately 2:45 as I drove southbound.  Now I know.  I did not see any downed power lines, and I also did not see any UI crews