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By EDMUND H. MAHONY, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
8:24 PM EST, December 28, 2011
When fat snowflakes the size of silver dollars began falling on Halloween weekend, it was as if nature had packed the worst weather of the year into a single storm and flung it at Connecticut. There was wind and record snow. There was yet another record for power outages. And this time, it was cold.
The effect on leafy trees was spectacular. Narrow roads in rural areas were blocked, in some cases, within an hour. The state transportation department said wind and snow eventually knocked down five times more trees than the wind and rain from Tropical Storm Irene two months earlier.
Trees speared roofs, crushed cars and dragged down essential elements of the state's electric grid. The storm took one life as it arrived late in the morning on Oct. 29, the victim of a traffic accident in Hebron. Twenty days later it cost Jeffrey Butler, Connecticut Light and Power's chief operating officer, his job.
Butler became the public face of a storm that killed power to 880,000 or so utility customers who pay electric rates that are among the highest in the country.
When the nor'easter spun away to the Maritimes, the public and the newspapers wasted no time reflecting on its awesome force, as had been the case with Irene. Attention riveted on electricity. Perhaps the difference was the temperature. In the affluent suburbs north and west of Hartford, families moved into shelters or endured as many as 11 nights when the temperature, inside, dipped into the 30s or 40s.
Homeowners with wells had no water, again. Gas stations, groceries and schools were closed. Traffic lights were out, congesting intersections in crowded suburbs. Hotels were full. People were overcome when they lit charcoal and gas grills in their homes. Public safety officers worried about streets, blocked days after the storm by trees entangled with live wires, and impassable to ambulances, fire trucks and police cars.
Butler faced a hostile gang of reporters during daily appearances with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. He contradicted himself almost immediately. Had the utility expected the storm damage? Should it have? Yes and no, Butler said.
On the seventh day without power, Malloy announced that he had retained a consultant to examine the way electric utilities responded to the storm. He pointedly abandoned Butler when the utility boss began missing successive, self-imposed deadlines for the restoration of power.
The last 37 CL&P customers had power back on Nov. 9.
Hours later, thousands of homes in the north of Hartford lost power again when rain knocked broken tree limbs onto still fragile electric lines.
The reliability of electric service will remain a focus of state government in the new year.
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