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Friday, September 23, 2011

The Morning After Irene

The Morning After Irene:
Damage being assessed; three homes condemned, three deemed unsafe; beachfront residents returning
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 8/29)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Monday morning couldn’t have been more perfect – temps hovering around 70, a cloudless blue sky, light breeze and calm, sparkling waters. One could not have imagined that a ferocious, record-setting tropical storm had pushed through 24 hours before.

Patch stepped out around 8:30 a.m. to pad about the beach area and capture the sights and citizens’ perspectives a day after a bullying broad named Irene pushed her way through Fairfield.

Expected and evident on most, if not all, town roads was your standard tree debris, joined by clumps of leaf bags and the odd cone or section of caution tape left from earlier road closures. In the Beach Area, a section of Edward Street between Penfield Road and Lalley Blvd. remained cordoned off due to downed tree limbs in the middle of the road. A homeowner there, Mini Zacchia, was busy in her two-car garage picking up water-damaged items, deciding whether to keep them or not and having her daughter Ashley jot down any unwanted items and toss them into the back of a dump truck that had been made available to them. Next door, a ServPro truck pulled up and delivered dehumidifiers and carpet dryers.

At the corner of Lalley and Fairfield Beach Road, homeowners Linda and Ron Lanzo reported, “Our living quarters are on the second floor. Water was nine inches deep around the property, and five or six inches deep in the garage, but we managed to keep stuff dry. It was an experience and neighbors came together.”

Ron Lanzo said he was surprised by how quickly the storm organized itself. “By 10:30 a.m. Sunday, all hell broke loose. There was a breach in our neighbor’s (435 Fairfield Beach Road) seawall – the second time this has happened – that took out his driveway. His shrubs were uprooted and came out onto the road.”

A day earlier, water covered the road around the Lanzo’s and much of Fairfield Beach Road. Since, the majority of water had receded and sand had been cleared off the roadways by town vehicles, whose response was magnificent. A front-loader, in fact, was busy on Penfield Beach leveling the sand.

Now, town trucks were being replaced by major TV news crews that had set up vans and satellite dishes near the Seagrape Bar/Restaurant and were conducting live broadcasts.

There, police had strung caution tape across the road and were only allowing residents and other pedestrians on foot onto the stretch of Fairfield Beach Road from #1 to house #3000 or so. This was a more relaxed stance as, the previous evening, the police were not letting anyone through. Later in the morning, an inspector from the Fairfield Fire Dept. did a pass through and gave a thumbs-up to Lt. Tom Mrozek to start letting residents back in, in their vehicles, which were beginning to amass along adjacent Reef Road.

Pacing along on foot up to house number 1000, the general scene was lots of sand displacement, erosion and deep grooves in gravel-based driveways and debris on lawns. The homes between numbers 1000 to 1500, in comparison, were relatively untouched despite one homeowner reporting water up to the bottom of her mailbox. From 2000 on, it was more of the 1 to 1000 scene – until the end of the road, that is.

House #’s 2149, 2155 and 2161 all had notices tacked to them declaring them unsafe, subject to a building inspector’s look-see. The stairs of the latter home had had its stairs ripped away, cables were hanging down and water was spewing from a water main connection.

House #’s 2131, 2154 and 2171 were all condemned, deemed “a menace to public safety by the Condemnation Board” of Fairfield.

While 2131 looked presentable on the beach road side, its beachfront face was clawed away and interior completely exposed. Pilings underneath were also crooked – it seemed the building structure had shifted on the pilings.

House 2154, along the inlet, had been pummeled by debris and was leaning at an angle. Tts back half had cracked off and was hanging into the creek.

House 2171 had big “bites” out of it, from its roadside face – exposing an inner bedroom – and its ocean side face – exposing other interiors.

A couple – Kristen and Mike Ginley – had jogged to the spot from their home at 285 Old Dam Road, on the other side of the inlet, and were amazed by the damage here. In contrast, their property had hardly been affected. “Our saving grace is the old dam,” said Mike, “a berm designed to protect the town. Town and the Corps of Engineers built it in the 1950s. It’s really quite ingenious. Seas affected by the ’92 storm came within a foot of going over. This storm came within 12 to 18 inches of going over.”

Mike said he stayed in his home as the storm moved through. “It really turned on around 3 a.m.,” he related. “The house was shaking, and monsoon-like rain was coming down. Then there was a calm, from 6 a.m. to about 10 a.m., when it seemed like the worst was over. But, at the same time, the tide was quickly rising. It was a nail-biter. I put steel cables on my dock, connecting them to trees. And my son and I put a rock on one of our stairs that lead to the dock and said, ‘If the water goes over that, we’re leaving. The water reached the stair below it at high tied – 11 a.m. – but that’s as far as it came, then receded quickly. We saw debris floating up the inlet.”

Added Kristen, “Usually you see this kind of thing somewhere else, or on the TV, not in your own backyard.”

Walking back along the beach, one became suddenly and eerily aware that there were no boats out on the Sound, not even the almost ever-present Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry boats. There was no air traffic either. Just beautiful and cloudless, much like the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when the region was visited by another disaster, albeit that one man-inflicted.

Doing clean-up around the beach-side of their house at 1513 Fairfield Beach Road was Ana Mazei and her two tow-headed children Isabel, 9, and Danny, 8. Said Ana, “The dune here was priceless. It kept the water at bay and from washing up and over.”

Reflecting the trashed road-side of their properties, homes in the 1 to 1000 section of Fairfield Beach Road were pock-marked and pecked at – lumber and decking was piled up against a jetty, one home was still sandbagged like a military outpost.

By 9:30 a.m., a couple dozen residents of the blocked-off end of Fairfield Beach Road had gathered and were eager to drive to their homes. One couple was Marcia and Steve Saft, of house #2073.

“We had extensive exterior damage, the stairs had washed out to sea, both seawalls were damaged and a plywood barrier had been comprised letting water and sand into our living room,” said Steve.

“The important thing is that no lives were lost and no one was injured,” said Marcia. “It’s sad and reinforces the fragility of life but, in the end, it’s only property.”

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