120 Hours After Storm’s End, Still Wilton Residents Trapped and Streets Blocked by Downed Trees and Wires

Wilton resident Laure Friedman is used to power outages. But what happened–or really, what didn’t happen–in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias made her ask a pointed question of the electric utility that serves the town.

“We are at the end of day six on Rivergate Dr. with no power, cell, internet, WiFi… and not a crew in sight for days. Eversource arrived with Wilton DPW on day three to remove trees from lines and Eversource was assessing service and equipment required for repair. No one has returned. This is not new to our area–we are typically the first to lose and last to be restored, but why?!”

As of Sunday evening, Aug. 9, 2020, it was a remarkable 120 hours since the end of the storm, and there were still several Wilton streets with downed trees and wires splayed lifelessly across the asphalt. According to the Eversource outage map, there was still 44% of the town that has no power. [Editor’s note:  by 4:30 a.m. that number fell slightly to 2,680 (36%).] What’s worse, there are some Wilton residents that have been trapped inside their homes since the start of the storm.

Anthony Ward lives on Hidden Lake Ridge Rd., a short little street off of Drum Hill Rd. with only nine homes on it. His report on SeeClickFix popped up on Sunday around noon. “Multiple trees on wires and wires down across road and across neighbors driveway (they are landlocked).”

Ward matter-of-factly understood why his street was neglected. “We’re this small cul-de-sac. So we’re not going to be the top priority.”

He’s rolled with the punches. “Getting frustrated isn’t going to help anything right now. We’re just going to see what comes, but it will probably be Wednesday before we start getting it sorted,” Ward said, although he conceded there’s still a potential danger waiting to happen for his next-door neighbor whose driveway is blocked by wires. Ward’s neighbor is elderly. “They can’t get out,” he said.

Nor would it be easy for emergency responders to get in, if they had to. Police Chief John Lynch said in some emergencies a fire truck or ambulance could drive over a lawn if necessary or possible. But when streets are actually blocked the way many were by large trees, it’s insurmountable in a vehicle.

Back on Thursday, Lynch told GOOD Morning Wilton he was getting anxious about impassable roads.

“It’s understandable the first 24 hours, but you know, we’re at day two. And we don’t know what day three will bring. We have no estimates; they say tonight, but I’m not holding our breath.”

Again, that was Lynch’s comment 72 hours before. Who knew Wilton would still be fielding SeeClickFix reports of trees on wires, downed wires, blocked driveways and 3,303 Eversource customers (44%) as of Sunday evening without power.

There have been countless SeeClickFix reports filed since Tuesday. We counted about 10 different issues involving wires that were filed on Sunday alone, some of which had been reported over multiple days. (We disregarded any report that didn’t involve wires because presumably, those wouldn’t require Eversource’s involvement and we saw that town crews attended to those lickety-split and closed the reports the same day they were filed). But from reports involving wires:

  • Wires Down/Wire Issue:  Seir Hill Rd.–Trees down on four wires–Hillcrest and Seir Hill Rd.
  • Tree Down:  Kent Rd.–Tree across the road, hanging on wires.
  • Tree Down:  Nod Hill Rd.–There are at least three trees hanging dangerously on the lines over the road and another tree, line and pole in the road near Partrick [Ln.].
  • Wires Down/Wire Issue:  Glen Hill Rd.–Three trees on wires on Glen Hill Rd.

Tuesday, Aug. 4 was the first day this report hit SeeClickFix for Signal Hill Rd.:  “Broken pole with wires down at top of shared driveway for 121, 125, 127.”

So the particular SeeClickFix report that really got our attention on Sunday morning was this one, from Signal Hill resident Jeri Savage–posting about, you guessed it, the same broken pole.  “Signal Hill Rd. is not detailed in the roads not passable list as of 8/8/20 yet it remains not passable with multiple homes still landlocked down that long driveway Photo as of 8/9/20 AM.”

For a better look at the picture, taken Sunday morning, check out the article’s main image, above.

With the wires stretching the width of the street, no vehicle could travel Signal Hill’s full length, which forms a horseshoe connected to Ridgefield Rd. at each end. Savage made the report on behalf of her neighbors who live on the shared driveway across which the downed pole and wires fell. She lives further down Signal Hill Rd. but saw the pole and the downed wires several times a day when she walked her dog.

“There’s one big driveway that goes down and you can’t really see all the houses from the street. I think there are three or four back there,” she said.

She heard from First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice multiple times, but nothing from Eversource.

Communication Problems

In addition to the compromised response to damage caused by the storm, Eversource added insult to injury with its multitude of communication failures, starting with the system malfunctions during–and just after the storm that hampered accurate customer reporting of outages.

We invited Wilton residents to share their experiences. Eversource’s issues are widespread, judging by what we heard from Wilton residents in comments on our social media posts as well as by email.

“For the past two days (I just checked again), Eversource keeps stating that fewer than five houses on Sturges Ridge have issues, down from 268 reported initially, although I suspect it was always many more. This is absolutely ‘fake news’ as not a single house on our street has had power restored!” wrote Natalia Ramirez.

Mary Russo had a similar account. “Shocked when Eversource called today to ask if we had power! How can we expect to be restored if their system doesn’t accurately record the outages! Subsequent conversation with Eversource reveals clear deficiencies with their system. Despite an on-site assessment, they did not have an accurate assessment of the issue. In addition, a crew showed up today to do tree clearing and left without any clearing.”

Cynthia Dempster shared her frustrations. “We had a very large tree take down multiple lines in our cul-de-sac during the storm. I spotted an Eversource crew on Friday and spoke with them at length. The lead guy said he was from Texas and was called in from New Hampshire as a sub-contractor to help assess damages. He said our street was in bad shape with multiple live wires dangling and that he was going prioritize us when reporting it, which he was doing as we spoke. That was two days ago.

“This afternoon we had an Asplundh crew (finally) clearing the trees off the wires. These guys came up from North Carolina on Thursday and said that Eversource has been difficult and unpleasant to work with. He also said that Eversource was telling them that people here were blaming them for the delays in restoration and that it was their fault for moving too slow. They finished clearing the trees at 5:30 p.m. and we’re still waiting for Eversource to come out and fix the lines.”

Erin Creighton said the response has been par for the course with Eversource–and dangerous.

“Eversource has consistently failed to protect or even respect its consumers. We live on a private drive off a major road (Drum Hill) with three houses, and with every major storm (since our move here 2011) we have had outages for days. What bothers me is not the actual time for power restoration but the lag time in clearing our road. We are unable to touch trees in our drive interacting with wires but it takes Eversource days to clear them. Until they do, no one can get in or out, including emergency vehicles. Last year this happened and we had a 4-week-old infant and couldn’t leave our house for two days–friends had to walk through the woods to bring us formula, to a house that didn’t have electricity or water. (This is after [Eversource] spent untold millions of dollars trimming and cutting back trees, including some on our road). With this storm, it took them five days to clear the driveway, yet we still don’t have power. God forbid we needed emergency help in that time–they wouldn’t be able to get to us and I know we aren’t the only ones in this situation. It’s completely unacceptable.”

Greg Hendrick brings professional expertise that allows him to give Eversource a failing grade. “Being in the insurance industry I understand very well the chaos storms can create on modern conveniences and insurers always have contingency plans to deal with these events. Not only do we still have no power five days later, but Eversource has absolutely no idea or information about when that may change–completely unacceptable.”

Megan Kane was growing tired of Eversource’s excuses. “Receiving an e-mail from Eversource saying ‘90% of Eversource customers now have power’ is like a poke in the eye to all of us still out. Especially when I continually hear stories of people calling to check status or re-report their neighborhood outage and they’re told by either an automated system or an Eversource rep that it’s been fixed or they weren’t aware (even though it had already been reported)–yet their power is still out. The response and communication is pathetic. Their communication is being tailored to attempt to redeem them but people know the truth.”

Eric Hsiao summed it up well for everyone:  “Eversource’s inability to manage our expectations is what’s torturing every Wilton household without power right now. The lack of communication and transparency is fueling the anger and frustration. We are left powerless and in the dark, wondering if this is the last 2020 straw that will break the camel’s back.”

Of course, it’s arguable that Wilton residents, many with generators or the ability to replace full refrigerators of spoiled food once power returns, should keep perspective. But that doesn’t give the electric utility a license to be woefully unprepared for the scope of widespread destruction that could have been better anticipated, nor does it excuse the lack of accountability and transparency for poor performance Eversource has shown over the last six days.

Lawmakers, both state and local, have started calling for Eversource CEO James Judge to resign.

Town Update

Since the COVID crisis began, Vanderslice has been updating residents once daily; with Eversource’s post-storm failure, she started posting updates twice a day. It’s clear she was just as frustrated as residents, like when she alerted Wilton residents to an “Incorrect/Misleading Eversource Message,” (which she later called a ‘debacle) or explained when Eversource was not responding to town officials’ requests.

Here are her updates from Sunday afternoon (3 p.m.) and evening (11:30 p.m.):

This morning we didn’t receive the same level of resources from Eversource as we received yesterday. The Governor’s Office has been actively working on our behalf to increase resources and facilitate improved operational communication and communication with residents.  As a result, we have begun to see new crews arriving. Thank you to Johnathan Harris from the Governor’s Office, Will Haskell, Gail Lavielle and Tom O’Dea. All hands are on deck!

    • The make safe, blocked road crews should have the last couple of non-passable roads cleared before morning.
    • Townwide, approximately 1,600 residents had their power restored in the last 24 hours.  2,791 or 37% remain without power.  
    • Neighboring communities have a similar percentage:  Weston 51%, Redding 48% Ridgefield 40%, Westport 30%, New Canaan 27%.  Obviously, Eversource did not deliver on 90% restoration by Sunday in our area. 
    • Today, these communities competed against each other for the same crews. The same competition is expected tomorrow. 
    • Please remember that previously restored power may need to be temporarily shut off in order to restore another area. 
    • Progress was made on the removal of partially blocked roads, blocked shared driveways and trees of wires.
    • Downed wires still remain.  
    • Power was restored to the cell tower on Deer Run, improving performance in North Wilton.
    • Problems continue with Eversource messaging. Most residents have not received any individualized alert, including no notice when power was restored. There are still no individual ETRs. My personal expectation is that we will never see them. 
    • Critical system backbone outages continue.  Wilton customers are on several different circuits. Some of those circuits originate outside of Wilton. For example, the south corner of Wilton is on a Norwalk-based circuit, Chestnut Hill north or RT 33 is on a Weston-based circuit. All of North Wilton is on a Ridgefield or Redding-based circuit. 
    • Weston-based backbone appears to have suffered the worst damage.  As an example, one the 100+ foot towers fell, requiring delivery and installation of a new tower and restringing of wires. 70% Weston customers are without power. 
    • I am still waiting for an updated status report for each circuit.  I will share when it arrives. It is helpful information as to your outage, especially if you are dependent on Weston. 
    • Power has been restored to Cider Mill and Middlebrook meaning no change to Tuesday’s primary locations and WiFi is now available outside the buildings.  Password is Warrior1.

Since the March 2018 storm, Eversource adopted new storm management protocols. We all will have much to share during the upcoming investigation. In the meantime, we remain focused on this event. 

Reminders:

Water:  Potable water at Fire Headquarters from the non-Town Hall side of the building. Water is available 24/7.  

Evening Internet/Charging Center at Comstock. See below. 

Outdoor WiFi outside all school buildings, the back of Town Hall, Comstock and the Library.

We have not open temporary shelters because of the possible spread of the Coronavirus. We have had a cautious approach throughout the pandemic.  Thus far, it has served the community well.  

Other Assistance: The Wilton Social Services Department is currently providing a range of assistance to residents during the hurricane emergency.  If you also need assistance or know of someone who needs assistance,  please contact Sarah Heath at sarah.heath@wiltonct.org.  

Comstock WiFi Access and Charging Stations:

    • Weeknights open from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.  
    • Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 
    • Sign-up via e-Trak or by calling (weekdays) or visiting Comstock if you can’t access e-Trak.  
    • Walk-ins are allowed, if space is available
    • You must wear a mask and complete a contact form
    • Bring your device and extension cords
    • Socially distant tables and chairs provided
    • Staff will be onsite
    • No bathrooms

Other important information

There were other items in Vanderslice’s updates from the weekend that residents should know:

  • Eversource crew members are working 16-hour shifts. Some of you have emailed about seeing crews in parking lots.  Parking lots are being used for crews to rest or take their legally required breaks and as staging areas for shift turnover or new arrivals.  Wilton crews generally eat their meals at Orems.
  • Cable and Cellular Service:  Both AT&T and Verizon are working town. [Saturday] morning, both were at the cell tower off Deer Run. As reported last night, new Verizon cell equipment was installed in Wilton Center. We were told is was temporary, but it looks permanent to us. It is certainly needed, so we are seeking clarification.Earlier [Saturday], I was in contact with an official from Altice (Optimum). The vast majority of their outages are due to Eversource power outages. Their central network is on a generator, so service can come online as soon customers are energized.  I requested and she provided a message for residents, which is posted below. 

Message from Altice:

In Connecticut (as of 8 am 8/8), 23% of our customers are currently offline, with the vast majority of the service-related issues being caused by loss of commercial power.  To the extent that there are impacts on our plant due to the storm, we need to ensure the situations are safe (no live electrical wires) prior to proceeding with repairs. 

Our central network has back up power and generators to ensure that we can provide service as soon as commercial power is restored to individual customer homes and our more local network. In instances where power is restored but service is still impacted, it is likely that our network was damaged such as at the individual home level or the node/neighborhood level.  We are working as fast as we can to identify root causes of any service outages and restore services if an outage not related to loss of commercial power.

We encourage our customers to contact us via social media (Twitter and Facebook) to advise of any individual service issues as we are actively monitoring those channels.  In addition, to alleviate long hold times to reach care agents via phone, customers can use the message function on Optimum.net. to chat with a live agent and identify service issues.

Given the extent of the storm’s impact on service across the region, we have opened the Optimum WiFi network to customers and non-customers during this emergency situation and nearly 93% of our WiFi hotspots are online.

Here is the hotspot link: https://www.optimum.com/outage

1 COMMENT

  1. We are currently located on linden tree rd., Wilton. It has been approximately 1 full week since since my neighbors and I had power & electric. This is outrageous and absolutely unacceptable! We demand answers and changes to be made so this does not happen again. Eversource & higher ups, you need to do better than this!

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