October Snowstorm: Taking It Day By Day in West Hartford

Initial snow predictions that no one wanted to believe, terrifying sounds of crashing limbs and exploding transformers, the temporary new reality of powerlessness and shelter living, and a massive clean up effort. West Hartford Patch looks back.

Many of us were disbelievers.

The lead paragraph of , with the headline "Snow Way!" read: "There's a song that James Taylor sings which includes the words, 'The frost is on the pumpkin.' There may be more than just frost coating the pumpkins and other Halloween decorations this weekend if the forecasters' worst case scenarios come true. And some may alter the next line of James Taylor's song to: 'The road salt is in the barn.'"

Director of Public Works John Phillips planned to take the plows back off his department's trucks on Monday, and return to the normalcy of road construction.

The flakes were falling by lunchtime Saturday. Photos of snow-covered Halloween decorations were amusing. Of course the snow would be gone by Halloween, we thought.

The next story on West Hartford Patch was posted thanks to the laptop's battery power and Verizon aircard which provided internet access. At 4 p.m. Saturday limbs were falling along with the snow and about 7 percent of Connecticut had already lost power.

By , and everyone was being asked to stay home. "Stay inside tonight and tomorrow morning. It's very dangerous out there," Phillips said that night. Downed limbs and wires made it impossible to plow.

Sunday morning dawned with brilliant sunshine illuminating a surreal scene. "War zone" was the only way to describe the streets of West Hartford, most of which were impassible.

By 10 a.m., the town's Emergency Operations Center was in operation as Mayor Scott Slifka declared a state of emergency for the second time in six weeks. School closures for Monday were announced. A warming center initially opened at the Elmwood Community Center, but by evening that transitioned to a full-fledged shelter. CL&P's map showed West Hartford as 100 percent in the dark, although pockets including West Hartford Center had power.

Mayor Slifka began sending recorded announcements out to town residents through the emergency communications channels. Although some residents thought it was overkill, many joked that they missed his daily calls once the crisis had ended.

Monday, Oct. 31, was Halloween. But not in 2011. The because of safety issues. More school closures were announced. The Bishops Corner Senior Center also became a warming center and Elmwood Community Center continued as a shelter. Patch was fully embedded in the Emergency Operations Center at the West Hartford Police Department, helping disseminate information to residents as it became available.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Cong. John Larson visited the Emergency Operations Center. After a tour of the town, Larson said it "looked like a war zone."

By Monday night, discussions were being held about opening Conard High School as a shelter, provided the power could be restored there. A timeframe for power restoration in the rest of town had not yet been announced.

Tuesday morning brought a decision to move the shelter operations to Conard since the school had power, was much larger than the Elmwood Community Center, and could accommodate everything on one level. Within hours, an army of 50 student volunteers, mostly student-athletes from the fall sports teams, had everything in place. Those students continued their volunteer efforts for the duration of the shelter operations.

The town continued to update residents on power restoration efforts, shelters, and safety issues, as many residents were relying on alternative power sources such as generators.

On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman toured the shelter at Conard along with other town officials, visiting with the temporary residents and pronouncing it "fantastic."

Gov. Dannel Malloy arrived at West Hartford's Emergency Operations Center on Thursday. He took a tour of the town's streets, pronouncing West Hartford's damage "as bad as anything he's seen in the state."

CL&P's self-imposed deadline of power restoration by Sunday night, Nov. 6, appeared unlikely, and Mayor Scott Slifka was losing patience with the power company's uncoordinated effort. "We're no longer really interested in getting into why they got into this situation. I want to stop having officers talk to executives. I want the person who can talk to my public works director and get the work done right now ... We're still going to push and prod and get them to that deadline," Slifka said that day.

On a , highlighting streets where power had been restored. On Friday, Day 7, the map had very little highlighted.

Saturday morning brought an announcement that schools would remain closed on Monday. Although that message may have been met with smiles from students, another one was not. "HALLOWEEN CANCELED. Town roads and sidewalks are still not safe enough for trick or treating. For this, we are very sorry," was the message in West Hartford's daily update.

With 52 percent of the town still powerless eight days after the storm struck, an extremely frustrated Slifka, who had been on call 24/7 since declaring a state of emergency a week earlier, appeared on "Face the State" Sunday morning. "I have no confidence CL&P will reach the 99 percent goal," he said.

Monday morning, Nov. 7, Day 10, brought a new week, a new liaison from CL&P, but nearly 10,000 West Hartford customers still without power. Patience had long since evaporated, and after a series of miscommuncations a Monday morning meeting between West Hartford town officials and CL&P representatives ended in an expletive-laden shouting match. That was the last straw for Slifka, who responded with a stream of expletives. "CL&P's response was not 'we'll do whatever we can,' it was 'we'll do it if you pay us," Slifka said later. "They are liars who care only about the bottom line."

Superintendent of Schools Karen List made the decision to keep schools closed on Tuesday, for the seventh straight day.

Tuesday was Election Day, which was held as planned. Power was restored to all polling places, but not all households. An announcement was made that schools would finally reopen on Wednesday.

Life gradually returned to normal, people went back to work, students returned to school, athletes ran across playing fields rather than volunteering in the shelter.

Even mulch mountain eventually disappeared from the UConn parking lot.

But what about the lasting effects, the untold stories, the many acts of kindness and generosity.

As Patch's storm retrospective continues, we'd love to share your stories, your memories, your photos. Tell us in the comments, or send an email to ronni.newton@patch.com.


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