As splintered trees and torn electrical wires frayed nerves and disconnected West Hartford, Ruth Swanson Aronson and friends were connecting.
“Hi darling,” said Aronson, 81.
“Hi honey,” said Irving Temkin, a year younger.
The at 15 Starkel Road has been a busy intersection for residents of all ages since Alfred stormed across the Northeast. Most were warming up, recharging and moving on, said Ned Skinnon, the supervisor at the center.
“The peak time has been between 1 and about 2 p.m.,” Skinnon said. “We had every [electrical] outlet in use – I’d say about 40 to 50 outlets.”
The senior center opened at 2 p.m. Sunday and up to 300 are stepping in and out daily, Skinnon said. The hours are 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“Very few people took advantage of coming over here during [Tropical Storm] Irene,” Skinnon said. “I thought maybe we would have a half-dozen or so [on Sunday] but about 75 came in. I was overwhelmed by the numbers.”
CL&P projects that 99 percent of West Hartford will be getting electricity by midnight on Sunday.
“This is by far the worst I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been with the town for 28 years,” Skinnon said.
Temkin said he has lived in West Hartford for 50 years.
“Nothing ever – not like this at this time of the year,” Temkin said. “We’ve had bad snowstorms, of course, but nothing like this with all the power going out.”
Aronson, a longtime resident, was among a notably upbeat throng at the senior center without power at home. There was coffee and some snacks. Some played cards. Others were reading. There were toddlers, teens, adults and, of course, seniors.
Skinnon said the senior center and adjacent branch can handle about 250 visitors comfortably. Unlike the main , there was no WiFi at the senior center or library branch because the Comcast connection was down.
“We’re also trying to accommodate our [regular] activities without canceling them as much as we can,” said Skinnon, who receives help from part-timers Nancy Strehlan and Bertina Williams and three rotating volunteers.
Temkin and Aronson were each within walking distance of the center.
"Of course it’s dramatically different now – everything,” Temkin said. “We all walked to school in the snow, for one thing. There were no busses then.”
“No matter what weather, you walked!” Aronson said. “In ’38, there was a hurricane and we walked in that.”
The category 3 hurricane – the Great New England Hurricane – cascaded into the state Sept. 21, 1938, causing some of greatest storm damage on record, according to accounts.
Aronson was born in Hartford and attended Washington Street School, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. She was a longtime telephone operator at the Industrial Safety & Supply Co. on Newington Road.
“I’m 18 going on 81,” Aronson said. “And I have not dyed my hair yet.”