My home was without power for 10 days as a result of last October's storm. That week-and-a-half was without a doubt one of the strangest experiences of my life, and it took many weeks before I felt that life had returned to normal.
I wrote a first-person essay about my experience a week after my power was restored. "Who else feels like they are finally emerging from a fog – having lost nearly two weeks of the year during which regular day-to-day life was interrupted in the attempt to deal with an unprecedented situation?" I said last November.
I wrote that despite how bad we thought things were, most of us were still relatively lucky. To this day they're still cleaning up New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – and that happened more than seven years ago.
Once we lost power, at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28, my home quickly became bitterly cold. But we were still luckier than many. Early on we huddled in front of the gas fireplace (the electric blower didn't work, but the space right in front was relatively toasty), we lit our stove's gas burners with a match to cook the food that would otherwise spoil. We filled coolers with snow and saved some of our perishables out on the patio.
"Dad, you need to clean up those five leaves," said my (then) 13-year-old son when we ventured outside that first Sunday morning. Amazingly, that's all that covered our front lawn. Wires and limbs from virtually every other home made our street an impassible minefield, but we were still pretty lucky. The enormous maple in our backyard loses its leaves early, and it emerged unscathed.
My experiment brewing coffee using the power converter in my car was a failure (although I managed to grind the beans), but we learned that Starbucks in West Hartford Center had power, and before noon we ventured there in my daughter's 4WD Ford Escape. We "ran on Dunkin" many mornings thereafter.
My husband and I spent every one of the nine powerless nights in our dark, unheated home – sleeping under layers of comforters, clad in layers topped by hoodies – but our gas water heater allowed us the "luxury" of hot showers.
The kids were here a few of the nights, but spent many other nights with generous generator-owning friends, and by the end of the ordeal, with those who had power restored.
During the days, my daughter spent hours volunteering at the Conard shelter with the girls soccer team. I think my son spent many hours at the Apple Store at Westfarms, but I truly don't remember.
I think my husband was back at work by Tuesday, Nov. 1. His office at MassMutual in Enfield didn't have power, but he made the trek to the Springfield headquarters and worked from there.
I worked nearly non-stop for 10 or 11 days, from the time I took my first photo gallery of snow-covered pumpkins on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 29, until after Election Day and the full restoration of power.
I attended the first meeting at West Hartford's Emergency Operations Center on Sunday, Oct. 30, and literally became an embedded journalist there for the duration, spending 10-12 hour days in the training room at the West Hartford Police Station. Patch helped the town with an essential need – an additional means of communicating with residents.
I posted story after story, which many information-starved residents could read on their phones, or through Facebook links. I covered meetings, toured the town with Gov. Malloy, followed CL&P's contractors as they performed repairs, learned about grappling arms, photographed downed trees and power lines and mulch mountains.
During that same period, I also covered a deadly fire, a second devastating fire, and a murder. I heard the apprehension of Suzete Berrincha's accused killer live on the police radio.
I am still so thankful for the kindness of Police Department staff who made space for me at a desk with an outlet to charge my laptop and phone, and made sure I stopped working long enough to eat something.
In last November's essay, I thanked many people for their dedicated service to this community. If you have the time, please read those tributes. A year later, as I have gotten to know many of them even better, that high opinion has not changed.
I repeat the words I wrote last year: "The dedication of West Hartford’s town management is unparalleled. I say that as a journalist who is taking this rare opportunity to inject my own opinion, and also as a resident of this town who experienced firsthand the way individuals worked together to ensure the safety and well being of the town’s citizens."
Patch earned its stripes in the storm's aftermath. As editor, I had an unprecedented opportunity to inform and impact the community, providing a constant stream of information that residents craved, and which could be easily read on their smartphones. Patch is hyper-local, and that's what people needed during that time.
Thank you to all who continue to read the site on a daily basis, or even just occasionally. Thanks to all who contribute.
This is your Patch. We report news, but we are also a community bulletin board and thrive on leading discussion about the issues that concern West Hartford.
Please send me your memories, your impressions, your photos of the storm experience. We have a few more storm retrospectives forthcoming, including the thoughts of Director of Public Works John Phillips, as we approach Monday's one-year anniversary. We want to include your stories, too.
And if Hurricane Sandy impacts West Hartford, we may have to do it all over again.