"The Connecticut Flood Recovery Committee's final report declared, "Connecticut was the hardest hit victim of the worst flood in the history of the eastern United States. The state endured Nature's fury in two major floods, one on August 19 and the second on October 16. Both were results of torrential rains." From The Connecticut Floods of 1955: A Fifty-Year Perspective
The above quote was based on two major storms that occurred in 1955. And as Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe said, "If it happened before, it could happen again."
In order to be prepared for such an event, the Town of Newtown recently participated in a statewide drill conducted by the governor's office. The event simulated a Category 3 hurricane and tested the towns planning, coordination and response capabilities.
“The magnitude would be substantially more than we had from either the tropical or October storm," Public Works Director Fred Hurley said.
According to Hurley, the snow storm was three to five times worse than the tropical storm, and a Category 3 hurricane would be three to five times worse than that. Kehoe said that there is no expectation of such a storm at this time, and Llodra also stressed, "This is just a drill."
How bad would a Category 3 hurricane be?
“We would have 50 percent of the roads impassible and 50 percent of the trees down,” according to First Selectman Pat Llodra.
Hurley said that 50 percent would translate to more than 300 roads in town, with 150 of them taken out by downed electrical wires. By way of comparison, Llodra noted, on Day 4 of the 2011 October snow storm there were 80 roads impassible with 30 to 40 wire-related problems.
"You can do mock training for these things but there is nothing like experiencing it first hand," Kehoe said. "Because of the data that we developed from the last two storms, it is easy for us to adapt it, bringing us to another level."
Preparedness is Critical
Kehoe said that the most important thing is for people to be prepared, and to recognize when it has become too dangerous to remain in their homes.
Llodra said, “It’s a very good rule of thumb to practice these behaviors before you have to call upon them in times of stress. We are trying to train ourselves so our response will be automatic.”
Among the situations the group practiced for:
- Extensive property damage
- Ninety percent of residents without power
- Mass transit has closed all major highways
- All streets are blocked by entangled wires
- Streets are washed out or impassible, including bridges and culverts
- Ten percent of permanent residents, 2,700 people, seeking shelter
Llodra said the town is prepared to shelter that many people, but more complicated, she added, would be providing water and commodities for as many as 6,000 residents.
That's why it is critical for residents to be prepared, too. “We are asking residents to do their part," Llodra said. "Contact information for family, friends, and loved ones should be checked and updated. Know your evacuation route, have supplies available for you and pets.”
According to Llodra, all residents have been mailed a booklet called "Be Ready Newtown." If any resident still needs one, contact the First Selectman’s office.
“It is important to learn and improve for emergency response, to be prepared,” Llodra said. “We all have to prepare personally for that kind of catastrophic event. The town has an obligation but individuals have a responsibility, as well.”
If there were such an emergency, Llodra said information would be posted:
- in online newspapers
- on the town website
- through twice daily code red calls
- an electronic message board in the center of town, most likely located near the
- on posters, flyers and A-frame message boards
- social media networks, radio stations, and a staff call-in center
Llodra asks all residents to register for the Code Red messages (click here to do that now), and to fill out the form, including how they prefer to receive their information. She said that adding a cell phone number is particularly important as, in the event of an emergency situation, land lines could be down and cell towers would be supplementally powered.
“The exercise emphasized the need for all of us to be prepared and resilient if all of the things we consider normal are absent or broken. The individual must be prepared as they may be on their own for a period of time, even days before they could replenish supplies,” Llodra said.
If residents would like further information or assistance, call the Fire Marshall Emergency Management at 203-270-4370.