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Friday, September 23, 2011

Irene Lashes Fairfield, Leaves Her Mark

Irene Lashes Fairfield, 
Leaves Her Mark:
Two houses collapse; 14,000 lose power; new Pavilion damaged; tons of tree debris; widespread flooding
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 8/28)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – She snuck into the area under the cover of darkness, teeth bared, claws extended. Stepping ashore Sunday morning, she lowered a shoulder and pushed the sea and sand well into Fairfield’s Beach Area, knocking two houses into the ocean, sending trees slamming on top of other structures and tearing wires from utility poles. It was a wild tantrum that lasted all day and continued into the evening, with lingering high winds assailing already pummeled landscapes.

While downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm as she tore northward up the East Coast, Irene reserved a place for herself in historical weather archives for the region and beyond.

At first light, she was already licking the Sound, savoring it like a salty buffet and stretching out to tear at Penfield’s new beach pavilion. She lifted up lifeguard chairs as if they were toys and hurled them at the facility’s façade, while undermining its foundation with swirling currents. The same was true at adjacent Jennings Beach, where she reared up to 10 feet in sea height to repeatedly crash on the pebbly shore.

Irene was not alone in the assault. Her partner – we’ll call him Surge – puffed up sea levels to new heights while a third party, Luna, tugged away as well. There was no avoiding the trio in low-lying lands. Boats at South Benson Marina bobbed above roadways. Waves crashed over seawalls at St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea. Limbs, leaves and whole trees were plucked, thrashed and toppled.

Then, major breaches, like so many cracks in a dam, sent water cascading over the dunes -- at Penfield Road, Reef Road and other prominent points. Police were dispatched to each beach-bound thoroughfare, to keep citizens out of harm’s way and monitor the flow. The invading water moved quickly up the roadways, swallowing asphalt, saturating storm drains, carrying along anything loose in its path. The sight, though troubling in concept, was novel as a visual and, soon, the curious massed – taking photos, rolling up pant legs to wade through it, traversing it with bicycles and waders. It reached Edward, then Quincy and even Paulding, threatening to keep going to the Old Post Road.

However, Irene showed mercy and pulled back on her reins, holding fast and even backing off a bit. This only served to excite onlookers more, who suddenly produced watercraft, like kayaks, canoes and dinghies, to move more creatively from point to point. Crowds grew and paced through the Penfield parking lot, then out onto the beach, which had consumed and half buried grills, picnic tables, buoys and lifeguard chairs. A festive atmosphere spawned, as if a collective neighborhood block party was commencing. Locals compared notes on storm damage, recalled prior storms and shared resources.

Irene had made her mark alright, and days of labor lay ahead to try and return the area to its trim, neatly tapered self. Fairfielders had been here before though, and would be here again – the price to be paid for the privilege of life by the sea.   

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