A Saugatuck Shores Saga

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.”

A small part of the damage to the Williams' home.

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.

Reconstruction is underway on the ruined interior.

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.

7 responses to “A Saugatuck Shores Saga

  1. My wife and I went through something similar almost 20 years ago, although not nearly as bad. A handyman trying to fix a valve in the central air conditioning system in our apartment somehow managed to rip it off, leading to an Old Faithful-type gusher of dirty brown water. By the time they were able to stop it, an estimated 5,000 gallons had poured out, destroying the downstairs half (500 sq. ft..) of our apartment.

    We had to move into a hotel for a month, the floors had to be ripped out and replaced, the walls had to be repaired, and so much furniture and personal items had to be replaced.

    It was, of course, a tremendous inconvenience and unsettling in many respects. But what helped put everything in perspective was that, just weeks before the deluge, we were in a bad taxi crash where my wife was injured, and, that weekend of the flood, my wife’s aunt died.

    Insurance did cover our property losses. And, as I learned from a friend who has had to endure some terrible family tragedies in his lifetime (starting at a young age), you shouldn’t get too upset over anything that insurance and money can compensate you for. If you and your family have your health, and you have a roof over your head and food on the table, be very thankful.

  2. Of course loss of a life is really tragic and there are situations that can never be fixed, but my heart goes out to this family. I think it is worse to cope with the result of an avoidable (in this case two valves) incident than one caused by nature. Saying “it could be worse” is unkind and thoughtless. I am holding you in my thoughts Williams family.

  3. They say that s–t happens. But this has got to be the worst example I’ve ever heard. I wish the Williamses condolences and the best of luck.

  4. I had alot of damage from the storm too. Not from the sewer back up, but from sea water. Your HOI policy has sewer back up coverage so thank god, right? They will probably depreciate your stuff- they did mine. Having receipts is a very good thing if you can show what you paid. If not, don’t worry about it too much. You’ll get a lump sum for contents coverage and depending on your policy, and the adjuster, you should be covered. Not for your time and suffering- nor for the tremendous expenditure of effort to remediate this situation. But soon enough, you’ll be through it. Stacy can redecorate with new decorations. It’s just a huge pain in the butt!

    Good luck

  5. Sounds like something out of a horror movie. So sorry your family has to endure this. Whoever invented the term “gross negligence” must have had these engineers in mind. Good luck.

  6. I can’t imagine going through something like this — especially after a sewer connect MANDATE. The engineers should be hung by their toe-nails over a pool of raw sewage.

  7. Gwen D. Lechnar

    I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say that saying it could be worse is exactly “cruel”. Fred was just trying to give these poor folks a little perspective. That said, what a nightmare! We had our own little spetic tank back up on us the week we moved into our current rental–3 times it backed up, even after it had been pumped out!(What was in the pipes, I guess) and that was quite bad enough. But the Williams’ story sounds like something out of Mexico, where we lived for 7 years before coming back to the U.S., and to get back to Fred’s comment, other than the neighbors helping out (which the Mexicans do, in force, after any disaster) there would be exactly NO other help forthcoming.Okay, MAYBE some insurance.