'People Could Die'
Local officials on Friday said that CL&P would be held responsible if anyone dies because emergency crews couldn't reach them in areas where power lines are still down and electricity is still out.
"It's on their heads,'' said South Windsor Fire Chief Philip Crombie Jr.
The South Windsor Fire Department issued a terse press release, saying people "could die" if CL&P doesn't make wires safe.
The town cleared all roads of trees earlier this week, the release states. But "as of [Friday], dozens of homes remain inaccessible to fire apparatus because CL&P has failed to deploy crews to work with the town."
In Bloomfield, Gamble said a half-dozen or more senior housing complexes remain without heat.
"If any of those seniors die of hypothermia, it's on that CEO's head," she said.
From Simsbury to Union, town officials complained loudly that utility crews were slow in responding as the National Guard was called in to help crews with major tree damage in the hard-hit Farmington Valley.
The complaints from mayors and first selectmen came on the same day that President Barack Obama declared a disaster in Connecticut that will allow cities, towns and Indian tribes to receive 75 percent federal funding for their expenses related to the storm.
After an initial snag, Connecticut will now be eligible for funding for debris removal, as well as overtime, fuel and equipment in all eight counties around the state. The state had originally been designated for a lower level of funding, but that changed on Friday.
"I appreciate President Obama granting this designation," Malloy said. "But while this is good news for the state, and our cities and towns, there is much more work to be done. This really is the beginning of our state's recovery from this devastating October storm, and even after power is fully restored, we'll have weeks — and even months — of recovery on an individual and state, city and town basis."
The storm has become one of the worst in Connecticut history with widespread power outages for a week and at least eight deaths. By Friday night, 322 people had been poisoned by carbon monoxide by operating gasoline-powered generators or charcoal grills inside or too close to their homes. Overall, emergency supplies had been delivered by the National Guard to 82 towns, and 80 shelters were open Friday night as the temperatures dropped sharply.
As the pace of restorations picked up, though, communities including New Britain, Newington and Manchester began closing shelters or relocating them from schools to senior centers. That would let custodians prepare the schools to possibly reopen Monday; most communities in CL&P's service area said they couldn't imagine holding classes this past week because so many wires were still down on roads or along sidewalks.
Mayors and first selectmen in the hard-hit Farmington Valley towns had a special meeting Friday to receive a detailed plan from CL&P, where the company maintained its longstanding pledge of restoring 99 percent of customers by midnight Sunday.
But many officials are skeptical of that schedule.
"We don't think that's possible,'' Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman said Friday. "We've seen the devastation. We've seen the trees. We've seen the lines.''
Simsbury public schools and the nearby St. Mary's School on Route 10 have already been closed for the entire week, and now they will be closed on Monday, too.
"We don't think the bus routes are safe,'' said Glassman, adding that Simsbury High School has become a major shelter that houses 1,500 residents. With the temperatures dropping Friday, the situation was not getting better.
The school schedule is fluid, but as of Friday night, the Simsbury schools were scheduled to be reopened on Tuesday — Election Day. Ballots are traditionally cast in multiple schools around town, but the election has been consolidated to one location at the Henry James Memorial School in the center of town.
In the small town of Union along the Massachusetts border, First Selectman Andy Goodhall expressed his outrage Friday in an email that was sent to two Republican legislators in his district. He said that Union, with among the highest outages in the state, was supposed to receive additional crews that had been promised — and did not arrive.