Tag Archives: Hurricane Sandy


In the wake of our most recent snowstorm — for some reason, it had no name — alert “06880” reader Howard Silver took this photo of one of Westport’s most beloved institutions:

Black Duck

And, he wondered, “how does the Black Duck stay on land?”

Coincidentally, Mary Palmieri Gai posted on Facebook’s “You Know You’re From Westport … If …” page yesterday. It’s from a 1910 Norwalk Hour story:

DESTROY THAT OLD HULK: There was talk sometime ago regarding the destroying of the old Hulk south of Saugatuck carriage bridge but yet nothing has been done about the matter by the selectmen. Since it was understood that the promise to do away with this unsightly blot on the third page of Westport’s beauty, many citizens are wondering why they have not made good on the promises.

The expense would not be great and there is no question but that the outlay that would be necessary to do away with this old hulk would be money well spent.

So the citizens of the town are hoping that the officials do something immediately toward improving the appearance of the scene south of the Saugatuck Bridge by destroying the old time boat that has rested on the mud flats at that point for a great many years.

A lively debate followed. Some folks thought the story referred to the Duck. But, owner Pete Aitken said, the restaurant — originally a barge — was not hauled there until 1961.

Perhaps the “old Hulk” is the vessel mired in mud immediately south of the Bridge Street bridge — visible only (but always) at low tide.

As for Howard Silver’s question of how the restaurant survives?

That’s just more proof that everyone loves the Duck.

Including God.

The Duck survived Hurricane Sandy too.

The Duck survived Hurricane Sandy too.

How To Talk To Your Kids About Halloween

It’s been 3 years since Westport has celebrated a proper Halloween.

Last year’s holiday was knocked silly by Superstorm Sandy.

The year before, it was a big-ass late-October snowstorm.

Halloween, 2011

Halloween, 2011

When you’re a little kid — say, 5 or 6 — 3 years is a long time. You can’t remember to tie your shoes or where you put your juice pack, so recalling what Halloween is like — forget it.

Today, Westport children may need a little ‘splainin’. You know: the hows and whys of this peculiarly American holiday. Tell them:

  • It may not seem like it, but Halloween is for kids. Once upon a time, parents’ involvement was simple. Mom sewed a goblin costume, while Dad checked the loot for razors hidden in apples. Nowadays, it’s much more complicated. Mom buys intricate costumes, while Dad sets up a bar to serve all the other moms and dads as they accompany their kids everywhere. It’s a stress-filled day.
  • Oh, and all those decorations in the yard? Cobwebs, skeletons, witches’ brews? They’re not real. They’re not even there to scare the crap out of anyone. They’re just to impress the neighbors.

Halloween decorations

  • Speaking of neighbors, the reason we pile into cars is not to go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house. It is to maximize the time/candy ratio. Studies have shown it is far more efficient to drive a couple of miles to neighborhoods with densely packed homes (email “06880” for a secret map!) than to trudge walk drive from house to house in otherwise highly regarded 1- and 2-acre-zoned areas.
  • “Trick or treat” once meant, “give me candy or I will throw toilet paper on your trees.” As trick-or-treaters morphed from tweens to teenagers, it meant, “give me candy or I will smash your pumpkin.” Now it means simply, “Give me candy. And it better be good.”

All of which explains why Mommy and Daddy need those drinks.

One Year After Sandy, A Community Recovers

A year ago tomorrow, Sandy tore through Westport with raging winds and historic seawater surges. William Adler, a Staples grad and longtime communications professional (UPI, The New York Times, Reader’s Digest), and his wife Olga had moved to Saugatuck Island 3 months earlier. Like many neighbors — and those on Compo Beach and Old Mill — their house was devastated.  William wrote this piece, exclusively for “06880.”

On Monday, October 29, 2012 Storm Sandy tore through town, bringing raging winds and historic seawater surges. Across Westport, 243 homes were substantially damaged. Many were rendered uninhabitable, pending repairs.

Saugatuck Island sits at the mouth of the Saugatuck River. Its 100 or so houses range from 1950s ranches to oceanfront mansions.  A giant wall of water gushed down the narrow streets, smashing through ground-floor windows and doors, depositing as much as 6 feet of water inside.

A small part of the great damage on Saugatuck Shores. (Photos/Inklings staff)

A small part of the great damage on Saugatuck Shores. (Photos/Inklings staff)

Two days later, many residents gingerly returned along Harbor Road on foot. The roadway had buckled as if in an earthquake. The only approach to the island was by cutting through yards.

Some houses were smashed or knocked off their foundations. Seawalls were toppled, their giant boulders tossed about like pebbles. The bridge onto the island was knocked off its moorings. Near the bridge, a sailboat had crashed through a living room window. Drowned rabbits were in driveways, and a dead shark sat on someone’s front stoop.

Damage inside William and Olga Adler's house was typical across Saugatuck Island. (Photo/William Adler)

Damage inside William and Olga Adler’s house was typical across Saugatuck Island. (Photo/William Adler)

Once residents made it home, the sight was just as heartbreaking. Most houses that had not been built or converted to FEMA flood elevation standards sustained water damage. Sea water destroys just about anything it touches: kitchen cabinets and appliances, furniture, floor surfaces – you name it.

Seawater had mixed with septic systems and other toxic sources. And because water surged from all sides it swirled inside houses, causing a tornado-like effect that amplified damage. Many families turned around and headed back to hotels to regroup.

In the weeks that followed, residents took stock. They were thankful to be safe. Help arrived from the Red Cross, FEMA, the Small Business Administration and, especially, the Town of Westport, which counseled victims on the daunting task of filing claims and helped streamline the process of variances for repairs.

Along the way, something wonderful happened. Island residents returned to rebuild. They created informal networks to share information and moral support.  A “stronger than the storm” determination spread widely.  It appears not a single Saugatuck Island family has left specifically because of the storm ordeal.

“The support on the island has been overwhelming,” said Larysa Chernik, who with husband Ihor had just moved from Wilton when Sandy struck. “We are lucky to have our own network of insiders on the island who provide ideas on colors, designs, vendors and anything else. We are sharing and learning from one another. For weeks we commiserated together, shared helpers and names of service providers, not to mention the coffee and donuts. We all lost so very much.”

The cost of staying is steep. Damage to homes on the island is estimated at $2-4 million. At minimum, flooded households had to hire expensive industrial-strength cleaning. Many needed  sheetrock removed, floors torn up.

An Island Way home in mid-elevation. The 1st floor was stripped back to studs, before being placed on a new, higher foundation. (Photo/William Adler)

An Island Way home in mid-elevation. The 1st floor was stripped back to studs, before being placed on a new, higher foundation. (Photo/William Adler)

Some residents elected to elevate – raising the foundation to meet FEMA storm requirements. As the house is lifted by jacks and gently placed on new, higher, moorings, substantial work must be done on every system in the house.  The State of Connecticut estimates that such projects cost $10,000 per linear foot. That works out to $150,000 to $300,000 — or much higher.

Most of the cost is not reimbursed by flood insurance, which mainly covers damage to the original structure. The process can take up to a year.

“We are trying to build smart and safe, so we went high,” Larysa said.“When we are done, we will exceed current base flood elevation by 3 feet. We hope to be more energy efficient. We found an architect who shared our vision and helped us figure out how to put back together our simple home. Neighbors stood with us and cheered as the house went up, and later as it came back down on its new foundation.”

The town has been enormously supportive of flood victims, holding seminars on FEMA and elevation procedures and providing an information phone line staffed by Michele Onofrio at the Westport Fire Department.  

The reconstructed seawall on Saugatuck Shores. (Photo/William Adler)

The reconstructed — and bigger and stronger — seawall on Saugatuck Shores. (Photo/William Adler)

By summer, things were looking up. The island’s association had completed repairs to the bridge, seawalls and roads. Amazingly, the main beach actually looked nicer, thanks to thousands of pounds of powdery sand deposited by the storm. Seawalls were bulldozed back into place, bigger and stronger.

Tony and Penny Sousa, longtime residents, organized a sprawling summer beach party for their neighbors that galvanized everyone’s determination to recover. Among those celebrating was Lisa Hartmann, another longtime resident, who said it is part of the character of people who live by the ocean to hang in through adversity.

Tony and Penny Sousa, celebration organizers. (Photo/William Adler)

Tony and Penny Sousa, celebration organizers. (Photo/William Adler)

“Most people who come to Saugatuck Island – either to live, vacation, join friends for a celebration or pass time — love it,” she said. “Many have been here a long time. They will say that living by the water is a kind of therapy.  Life is a state of mind.  Where else would they go?”

Lisa — a realtor — reports that in addition to all the houses that have been repaired, 7 new constructions are under way. Another is due to start shortly.

“It has been difficult for many people, but knowing that they have made it through is an accomplishment in itself,” Lisa said. “I believe every home was impacted financially in some way or another. You can replace things, but you cannot replace relationships that have been made because of Sandy. Our family is very happy in Saugatuck, and I just say be patient – all this will be a distant memory.  The island is just getting better.”

The island association oversaw the cleanup and repair of the bridge and other infrastructure, which cost residents about $100,000. Carole Reichhelm, the association president and a resident for nearly 40 years, said the island is now better prepared to handle future storm emergencies.

“Our board came on strong and worked together quickly to get our cleanup under way. Although our bridge floated off its foundation we had it back in place in less than 2 weeks. We learned vital information about its structure and how we can protect ourselves better. Our experience with FEMA was very positive.”

This Island Way home was in mid-elevation, with the 1st floor stripped back to studs, before being placed on a new, higher foundation.  (Photo/William Adler)

This house, on the beach at Saugatuck Island, is being elevated above FEMA requirements. (Photo/William Adler)

Carole added that she can’t remember a time when community spirit was stronger.  “In many ways, the storm brought our neighbors closer together – personally, I know more people on the island than I ever have before. We are a strong, vibrant, pretty old-fashioned neighborhood with kids on bikes, lemonade stands in summer, July 4th barbecues, paddle boarders, kayakers, sailors and a lot of people enjoying the spectacular views. If Sandy was our sacrifice for choosing to live in this place, I’d do it all over again without a second thought.”

Still, as Layrsa and Ihor prepare to finally move home, she said, “Living as a displaced person for a year is a humbling experience. You appreciate every act kindness, no matter how small. We are privileged to live in a unique community.

“The holiday caroling party has been organized, and discussions are under way for starting a movie club. The walks with our dogs continue. Everything has changed this year, except for the people we call friends and neighbors. We hope for many more safe and happy years.”

In the past year, the Adlers have elevated their home. Olga — an interior decorator — is in the process of creating “the ultimate beach house,” with energy-efficient features, solar power, a home automation system and car elevator.

Sandy deposited tons of shells along Saugatuck Island beaches, but somehow this brave little sunflower took root in the sand last summer.  (Photo/William Adler)

Sandy deposited tons of shells along Saugatuck Island beaches, but somehow this brave little sunflower took root in the sand last summer. (Photo/William Adler)

The Beach Goes On

Living at the beach is a dream.

Until something like Hurricane Sandy turns it into a nightmare.

But Compo, Old Mill and other shoreline residents say it’s worth it. They’re used to challenges.

They adapt.

These owners are already back home.

These owners are already back home…

They’re raising their homes to FEMA standards. They’re gaining safety (and maybe a garage underneath).

Plus — this is Sandy’s dark cloud/silver lining — they now enjoy fantastic new views.

...and so are these.

…and so are these.

Some homes are not fixable. In their place, owners build stronger houses.

Other homes are, or will soon be, up for sale. (Like Betsy and Dan Kahn’s — she provided these fantastic photos.)

A house near Compo Beach being raised...

A house near Compo Beach being raised…

...and 2 more at Old Mill Beach.

…and 2 more at Old Mill Beach.

Many residents have lived elsewhere for the past 9 months, or huddled in only part of their under-renovation house. The wait, they say, will be worth it.

And beach life will be better than ever.

Some houses couldn't be saved...

Some houses couldn’t be saved…

...but new homes -- like this one on Danbury Avenue -- are going up quickly. (Photos by Betsy P. Kahn)

…but new homes — like this one on Danbury Avenue — are going up quickly.

Meanwhile, on Compo Cove, approximately half of the houses are still being raised. (Photos by Betsy P. Kahn)

And on Compo Cove, many houses are still being raised. (Photos by Betsy P. Kahn)

After Sandy, A Pleasant Surprise

Sure, it looks a little Guantanamo prison-ish.

But the temporary fencing that replaced the Compo Beach brick wall demolished by Hurricane Sandy has pleasantly surprised a number of Westporters.

Gone is the imposing barrier between the covered pavilion near Joey’s, and the wooden bathhouses next to it.

In its place stands an open fence.

Compo bathhouse

It’s not pretty — and neither are the bathhouses behind it, dating back to the time the first life forms slithered out of the sea — but the airiness of the area appeals to many beachgoers.

When permanent improvements are made — “permanent,” of course, being at the whims of weather — it might be good to consider something along the lines of the current fence, not the old wall.

And, of course, some updates to the bathhouses. As grotty as they are, they’re well utilized, and much appreciated by regulars who store chairs, umbrellas and toys there.

One of whom even said he thought users would be willing to pay for improvements themselves.

Hurricane? What Hurricane?

A couple of weeks ago, Compo looked much as it did right after Hurricane Sandy.

By today — Memorial Day, the 1st gorgeous day of the beach season — virtually all the damage had been cleaned up.

Sure, it looks a bit different. The brick wall near the bathhouses is gone:

Compo Beach bathhouses

But the boardwalk has been repaired, and the patio near Joey’s looks just as enticing as ever:

Joey's by the Shore

The ever-popular sidewalk between Schlaet’s Point and Old Mill is ready for walkers, joggers, strollers and rollerbladers — with plenty of new stones:

Hillspoint Road, Westport CT

Of course, if you look carefully you’ll see lingering after-effects. The enormous, how-did-they-ever-get-it-there? potted tree on the walkway to Compo Cove has looked like this since October:

Compo Cove, Westport CT

And many homes still look like this:

Compo Cove, Westport CT

Still, considering what the beach area looked like just 7 months ago, we weathered the storm very, very well.

Paying It Far Forward: From Mississippi And New Jersey To Long Lots

Tonight, the Board of  Education will vote to build a $117,000 playground at Long Lots Elementary School.

And it won’t cost Westport taxpayers a dime.

It’s a gift from the New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association.

And if you wonder — as I did — why the NJSFMBA is donating a playground to an affluent town 2 states away: read on.

Sandy Ground logo

The donation is part of the “Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play” project. Based in Rahway, NJ, it honors all 26 victims of the Sandy Hook shootings, while also helping communities in the tri-state area hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

A week after the storm devastated much of the New Jersey coast, Billy Lamb called the NJFMBA state office. The Mississippi businessman remembered New Jersey firefighters, and the playgrounds they built there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Lamb said the communities of Waveland and Bay St.  Louis, Mississippi were collecting Christmas gifts for New Jersey children affected by the storm. They were “paying it forward” to those who had showed such kindness in their own hour of need.

During a nor'easter, Gail Cunningham Coen welcomed Waveland mayor Tommy Longo to her Compo Beach home.

During a nor’easter, Gail Cunningham Coen welcomed Waveland mayor Tommy Longo to her Compo Beach home.

(Waveland and Pass Christian are well known to Westport. Gail Cunningham Coen is senior vice president of Keep America Beautiful, and has worked hard to rebuild both communities. She’s even hosted their mayors here.)

In December a trailer containing over 1,000 wrapped Christmas toys arrived from Mississippi, for Monmouth County kids.

The gesture energized exhausted NJFMBA members.  Unfortunately, at the same time the nation was reeling from the shooting of 20 children and 6 adults, not far away in Newtown, Connecticut.

The NJFMBA wanted to do something to help — but how could New Jersey firefighters be productive and meaningful? Suddenly — thanks to the gifts from Mississippi — the playgrounds they’d built 7 years earlier provided the answer.

“The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play” was born.

So 26 playgrounds — in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut — will be built,  in an attempt to connect 2 tragedies that eerily share the same name.

Dylan Hockley

Dylan Hockley

The Long Lots playground honors Dylan Hockley, the little boy who’d moved to Sandy Hook from England 2 years ago, and who died wrapped in the arms of his teacher, Anne Marie Murphy.

The total cost could reach $2 million.  But when NJFMBA members debated whether it could be done, they kept coming up with the same answer. Not only could it be done; it had be done.

Pending approval of the gift (!), construction will begin next month.

But you can thank the New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association any time you want.

(“The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play” can be reached at 1447 Campbell St., Rahway, NJ 07065; www.thesandygroundproject.org; 732-499-9250.)

(Click on the video below, or click here for a direct link to YouTube.)

Truckin’ By Elvira’s

No one minds fair competition.

Unfair competition — well, that’s different.

Nick Yiozanakos and Niki Boulas, Elvira's owners.

Nick Yiozanakos and Niki Boulas, Elvira’s owners.

In February, Niki Boulas — owner of Elvira’s Deli near Old Mill Beach — emailed the first selectman’s office.

She said that after Hurricane Sandy, there’s been lots of construction in the area. Recently, she noticed a big impact from food trucks. She wondered what could be done.

Pat Scully replied:

All food trucks are required to have a health permit. Food trucks that park on town-owned property are also required to obtain a town vendor’s permit.

However food trucks on private property are not required to obtain a town permit (just a health permit). There are no local zoning laws regulating food trucks. Therefore if the food trucks you mention are located on private property construction sites, the town does not have any jurisdiction to ban them from operation.

The food permit costs $10. There is an additional fee of $25 for each vehicle used.

Yet the town’s “Vendor’s Permit/Door-to-Door Solicitors” regulations also say:

Vendors are not allowed to compete directly with established retail operations anywhere in the Town of Westport. For example, ice cream vendors may not operate in the main business areas of Westport or in close proximity to outlying stores which sell ice cream.

While “directly” and “close proximity” are not great legal terms, the food trucks are clearly on town — not private — property. Niki took this photo yesterday, in “close proximity” on Hillspoint Road:

Food truck on Hillspoint Road

On Friday, Elvira’s placed a petition on their counter. It reads:

As many of you are aware, there have been many food trucks coming into our area from out of town. These trucks have had a significant negative impact on our business.

Their fees to the town are minimal. There is no way for Elvira’s, as a small mom and pop business, to compete with their prices as our overhead costs are greater, and we are a Westport taxpayer.

For over a month now we have been dealing with town officials and our First Selectman, and we have gotten nowhere. As a local business serving the community for the last 16 years, we find this situation to be unfair. Now we need your help by signing our petition to ban or restrict them from our Compo Beach area. Thank you!

Bedford 8th graders Bryce Reiner and Billy Hutchison are big -- and loyal -- Elvira's customers.

Bedford 8th graders Bryce Reiner and Billy Hutchison are big — and loyal — Elvira’s customers.

As of yesterday afternoon — despite 98% of Westport being away for school vacation — nearly 200 customers had signed. The names included some heavy hitters in town.

Elvira’s has many fans. It’s been an anchor of the Old Mill community — during Hurricane Sandy, sure, but before as well.

And long before the invasion of the (perhaps illegal) food trucks.

Klaff’s Closes — Another Sandy Victim

Klaff’s is closing its Westport lighting store.

A salesman said the long-time Westport shop by the Taylor Place parking lot– next to the Saugatuck River, opposite Parker-Harding Plaza — was a victim of Hurricane Sandy.


Though the showroom was not hurt, the late October storm flooded the stockroom and storage area below. Klaff’s was shut for 2 weeks. According to the salesman, “we’re just not doing the business we used to.”

Klaff’s will maintain its “mother store” in South Norwalk, and its locations in Danbury and Scarsdale.

A sale is going on now in Westport. Klaff’s plans to close by the end of the month.

Burying Hill Beach Rebuilds

Alert “06880” reader John Karrel sent this photo of Burying Hill Beach:

Burying Hill Beach

Our Public Works Department is overseeing the reconstruction of the steep cement wall, heavily damaged during Hurricane Sandy.

The plan is to have the FEMA-reimbursable work finished by Memorial Day — the start of beach season.

Which — judging by today’s weather forecast — can’t come a moment too soon.