Dan Williams and his family moved to Saugatuck Shores in 1997. This year, they and their neighbors were mandated to go on a town sewer line. The hookup was done in late August — a week before Hurricane Irene hit.
That Sunday, 4 feet of water filled the streets. A bit seeped into the garage. But the house had been raised by the previous owner, so there was no damage inside.
Like the rest of Westport, the Williamses waited for power to return.
At 8:30 Tuesday night, it came back on.
Pumps throughout Saugatuck Shores roared to life at once. Tremendous pressure filled the sewer line.
A check valve — attached by a hose and clamp — is supposed to prevent outside sewage from flowing back into the tack.
Dan’s clamp failed. It ripped off the line. Sewage poured into the tank at enormous speed — and found the closest exit points. They were a pair of 1st-floor toilets, and a tub.
Sewage shot out “like a volcano,” Dan says.
And it kept coming.
“There was no way to shut it down,” Dan says. “We tried to shut the power off — nothing worked.”
The house was destroyed. Everything on the 1st floor was lost.
It finally stopped only when the 130 or so tanks in the neighborhood were empty.
Into the Williams’ house.
His “wonderful” neighbors rushed over. The used shovels, brooms, mops — anything to get the estimated 6,000 to 9,000 gallons of sewage out of there.
“I can’t thank them enough,” Dan says.
He has harsher words for the sewer line engineers.
“There should have been 2 check valves,” Dan notes. “In the planning stages, one of my neighbors was an outspoken opponent of only 1 check valve. And he’s a pump expert — that’s his job.”
The Williamses — Dan, his wife Stacy, 2 teenage girls and an 11-year-old boy — vacated their ruined home immediately. They stayed with friends for a couple of weeks. Now they’re in a rental house.
His kids are “better,” he says.
But Stacy is “an absolute mess. This was her home, her decorations. It’s all gone.”
Dan did not go to work for 3 weeks.
“No one knew what to do,” he says. “We had to figure everything out. We had to rip the house apart, start reconstruction, get a cleaning company to verify it will be okay — there was so much to do.”
His insurance company was no help. “They were inundated” after the storm, Dan says. “Getting someone here was a headache. It’s been almost impossible to talk to anyone.”
What about the town?
“What about them?” Dan counters.
Brian Thompson — the Public Works Department’s lead engineer on the project — “did a wonderful job holding my hand that night, and the day after,” Dan says.
“But he’s the only one from the town I’ve heard from.”
The pump manufacturer — E/One — has already replaced area residents’ setups with stronger hoses and clamps, Dan says.
No one from the company has contacted him. “I’m sure they’re lawyered up, waiting for me to come after them.”
Dan says that he has heard the town will put in 2nd check valves — at no cost to homeowners. However, he adds, “if you haven’t hooked up to the system yet, you have to pay for (the 2nd valve) yourself.”
“We’re coping as best we can,” Dan says. “On a good day, we can smile.”
Yet, he notes, “I still can’t wrap my head around what I need to do to go forward.
“How do I make sure my family and property will be okay? Who verifies that?
“Will my house be devalued? What if someone in my family gets sick?
His family, he says, is “heartbroken.”
Meanwhile, their home has been gutted down to studs and beams. Rebuilding could take 4 to 6 months.
Insurance covers their rental. But, Dan says, “they say we’re 100% covered for damage. But we don’t know. Can we just buy new furniture? Will they say our contents were depreciated?
“This is the 1st time I’ve had to deal with tearing a house apart — with deconstruction and reconstruction.”
Dan spends his days talking with insurance agents and lawyers — and trying to talk with town officials.
“There’s not a lot of help,” he says. “It’s unbelievable.”
“Not a lot of help,” he repeats, unbelieving.