Early Tuesday ride through Fairfield shows breadth of destruction

At the height of Hurricane Sandy Monday night, as winds howled and trees snapped all over the region, edgy town officials – already backed up hundreds of 911 calls – were asked if they could conceivably rescue three homeowners who’d defied orders to evacuate Fairfield Beach Road and wound up on an island of their own in Long Island Sound.

They looked at a reporter like he had three heads.

That moment, Paul and Patty Zecchi were sitting in their carriage house, surrounded by water, fearing that a giant log or wave might come crashing through their window. Just a quarter-mile away, some of their neighbor’s homes were getting ripped off the ground or shattered into thousands of pieces.

“The scariest thing,” Paul said Tuesday afternoon, standing on his back porch for another high tide, “was seeing these 25-foot waves out there in the Sound.”

Across Fairfield Tuesday, residents dealt with the widespread destruction wrought by probably the strongest storm to hit the town in generations. Residents and officials have only begun to take stock: Hurricane Sandy – which claimed at least four lives across Connecticut – left up to 90 percent of the town without power, destroyed perhaps dozens of homes by floodwater and from crashing trees, and displaced hundreds of residents who took shelter at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.

Town employees teamed up with private subcontractors, UI workers and even a few volunteer U.S. Marines to identify dangers posed by downed power lines, receding floodwater near the beach, and the backlog of 911 calls.

Assistant Fire Chief Christopher Tracy estimated that, by the beach alone, seven or eight homes were destroyed, about 15 were seriously damaged and another 15 looked uninhabitable. Department of Public Works guessed that 272 trees were still tugging at wires on roads. Trees also crashed into houses – including one squarely striking a home on Glen Arden Drive and another off of Redding Road.

First Selectman Michael Tetreau said at 5 p.m. that Fairfield remained in a state of emergency. He urged residents to stay off roads so that first responders could work unabated by traffic. With 70 percent of the town still in the dark, traffic lights were black along main thoroughfares like the Post Road through most of the day.

Halloween was rescheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 7.

Residents who reside 100 yards south of Old Post Road and Oldfield Road were permitted to return to their homes. Residents were also permitted to return to Southport.

Many of the beach-area properties were under some water after Sandy brought record flooding to the beach area Monday night. Residents returning to this area will find no utilities in service, Tetreau said. He added that anyone entering beyond that point would likely face contaminated drinking water, gas leaks and structural damage.

Parking restrictions are in effect from the Old Post Road to Oldfield and south of that to the beach. Non-residents and unauthorized vehicles would be subject to towing, Tetreau said.

Tetreau urged residents not to call 911 unless you have a life-threatening emergency and to refrain from reporting property damage until Thursday.

Sandy will go down in the Fairfield record books.

“This beats the storm of ’92 by three blocks,” said one emergency responder, standing at the corner of Reef Road and Howard Street, three-quarters of a mile from the beach, as the approaching water finally came to a stop late Monday night.

In the overnight into Tuesday, the dark streets, with blacked-out traffic lights, had been carpeted everywhere with sticks, leaves and branches — and blocked off in places with tree trunks, power lines or standing water.

When the sun came up, something else started: Homeowners near the beach – including those along the stretch of Fairfield Beach Road past Lantern Point, where the Zecchis weathered the storm – wanted to find out about property damage.

Many couldn’t make it. But others found a way.

Mike O’Donnell, an engineer who lives on the backside of South Pine Creek, spent much of the afternoon shuttling beach-cottage owners across the swollen channel in his wobbly motorboat.

After several trips, he brought himself and two others to survey the damage.

He walked down the 1.5-mile peninsula, snapping photographs and shaking his head. At least eight homes appeared to be total losses. He watched as one floated clear down South Pine Creek. Another was flayed like a steak, its chimney the lone item standing in the slapping surf.

They moved to the end of the peninsula. There they eyed a scattering of beams and driftwood in a clump of rocks across Pine Creek.

They gazed at a nearby foundation, then a couple of wavering docks across the channel.

What were they looking at?

“That foundation looks like a first floor to me,” his friend said.

O’Donnell nodded.

“This amount of debris takes a whole house to make,” he said.

Tim Loh