The Hartford Courant Dan Haar column
Nov 02, 2012 (The Hartford Courant - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
On the third day of the third storm that plunged his town and members of his family into darkness, Mark Roberts went about some tasks that have come to feel familiar in these parts.
He connected a generator to the freezer in the garage of the house where his mother, sister and nephew live -- after waiting on line for four hours to buy the generator the night before. He cut up a fallen branch. He checked on his tattoo business in Deep River, which had just regained power.
A typical scenario for a storm aftermath, perhaps, but Roberts' family has a claim to history.
When all three storms are tallied, only 11 towns had at least 81 percent of their residents lose power in each storm -- black or brown on the Connecticut Light & Power outage map. Marlborough might have suffered the most, with complete or near-total blackouts in Tropical Storm Irene, the October snowstorm, and now, Sandy.
And the stretch of Jones Hollow Road where Roberts and his family live, in two houses with one driveway and one well, has been left in the dark longer than just about anyplace else in town. Eight days in the first storm, seven in the second. Then this week, they were out for three days before the juice finally came back on Thursday morning.
"It's been hard, but we've got the whole family together," said a talkative Roberts, whose long black beard, work boots and flannel shirt make him the central-casting image of the stoic Yankee.
With cold weather coming, the family finally got themselves a small generator late Tuesday after hearing that The Home Depot in Glastonbury had a shipment coming. But it still didn't have enough wattage for cooking, and it only powered the heat in the tiny house where Roberts lives with his fiancee and toddler, not the one next door.
Down the hill in the town center, there's a Middlesex Hospital satellite medical center that generally gets restored fast, Roberts said. "It's disheartening. You come on the street, the power is on, you get all excited."
Another resident along Jones Hollow, Ann Kilby, was, of course, in the dark this week, and also recalled a two-day outage that happened last year before the big storms.
"In the next couple of days, if we don't get power," said Kilby, the town's Democratic registrar of voters and former local emergency management director, "I'm going to say, 'Why us '"
By Thursday night, only 6 percent of the town was out, down from 67 percent the day before.
Looking ahead 50 or 75 years, the children of Marlborough and the handful of other Connecticut towns that sustained widespread blackouts in all three storms will be able to tell their grandchildren that they lived through the freak storms of 2011 and 2012.
Why these towns Certainly, they're all covered with trees. High elevation is one possible factor, not just in Marlborough.
Ridgefield, for example, is 800 or 900 feet up, unlike its coastal neighbors on Long Island Sound, bringing such high winds that the roof was destroyed on the gym where the town has its emergency operations center. On Wednesday, First Selectman Rudy Marconi called for and received National Guard troops. By Thursday morning, Ridgefield still had nearly 100 roads blocked by trees tangled with wires.
In addition to Marlborough and Ridgefield, the thrice-stricken towns are Morris, Bethlehem, Woodbury, Roxbury, Newtown, Monroe, Redding, Norfolk and Bolton -- all except Bolton and Marlborough in western Connecticut.
So, what's Marconi's theory about the 11 hardest-hit towns
"Because I have no explanation for it, I'll call it bad luck," he said.
It's possible that where the towns lie on the electric grid could make them more likely to see outages; CL&P had no immediate comment on that question.
Whatever the reasons, a drive around Marlborough this week made it clear that for the people here, power outages are just part of life in a small town that clings to its rural character.
"I grew up in Durham," Roberts said. "We called this God's country out here. It seems like it's got a slower pace."
It was anything but slow in town hall this week, as residents steadily dropped by to make it known that CL&P hadn't yet turned on their lights.
"I'm frustrated," a Millstone Drive resident with Nike shoes and thinning gray hair told First Selectman Catherine Gaudinski on Wednesday. "They were there this morning. The pole is up. They cleaned up ... but they didn't do anything."
"I understand," Gaudinski said calmly, standing across her office doorway from the constituent. "I'm in the same situation you are."
"It's going to get cold tonight," the resident said. "We're on the bottom of the list, our section."
Not true, Gaudinski assured him. "Our road crews have been working with CL&P crews."
It only seems like they're on the bottom of the list. For some, the repeated episodes have added to the frustration; for others, repeated outages have dulled the reaction. Judy Ceramicoli, administrative assistant in town hall, was out for six days after Irene. When the October snowstorm hit, "That almost did me in. I was fit to be tied," she said.
"Now it's become old hat."
Up Jones Hollow Road, the sense was different for Marney Tackett, Roberts' sister.
"After 24 hours of no power this time, it felt like a week," she said. "It's only power. But it's really dark at night. It's really quiet."
Tackett, an East Hartford teacher, said that her 6-year-old son "has done much better than we've done."
It's not like they aren't seeing crews. About every hour a truck rolls by, Tackett said. Roberts gets angry when he hears about people screaming at power and telecommunications crews. "These linemen are out of power, too," he said.
At the time of Irene, Roberts didn't live in town, but he spent a lot of time there to help the family, and they all stuck it out together with no generator. His son was born between storms, and they moved there -- just in time for the October snowstorm. Still with no generator, they finally went to stay with a relative after four or five days.
This time around, they filled containers with water before the storm so they could flush toilets. What's the hardest part of a long blackout "It's food," Tackett said. "Flushing toilets and being able to wash your hands," Roberts said.
Their mother, Carol Schlabaugh, said it's "the unknown."
"If you knew you were going to be out eight days," she said, "I think I could be able to plan better."
Across Marlborough, people agreed that residents were better prepared this time, with more generators in place. Having Lake Terramuggus in the middle of town is a help, said Martial LaRoche. "We just get buckets of water" for flushing toilets.
It's still a small enough place that people pull together. That's what Cliff Denniss thought about Wednesday as workers removed the 65-foot ash tree that crashed through the roof of his house during the storm.
"All the neighbors, geez, 'You need a place to stay ' They were wonderful," he said.
In town hall, Ceramicoli was having another tough day Thursday when she looked up and saw a resident at her desk. "OK, just yell at me, go ahead," she said.
All the man wanted was a sample ballot. He got the ballot, left, and returned with hot chocolate and Dunkin' Munchkins for her.
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