As of noon, 9,800 — 78 percent — of Westport’s Eversource customers remained without power. There is no indication when restoration will be complete.
The number of impassable roads is 14. The Department of Public Works expects all to be passable by tomorrow. At that point, DPW will work on the roads with hanging trees or other obstructions. After that, they’ll embark on a thorough town clean-up.
Westporters (and Norwalkers) worry about this situation on Post Road West. The lines are drooping lower by the hour. As soon as blocked roads are cleared, crews will take care of this — and a similar very visible situation on Avery Place. (Photo/Diane Lowman)
He was the Hero of Superstorm Sandy. Not to mention many other natural disasters — blizzards, wind storms, locust plagues — that have befallen Westport in the past decade.
The fire inspector can be heard on a continuous loop on WWPT-FM (90.3), the Staples High School radio station. He offers an astonishing array of information: what’s opened and closed, where to charge your devices, how to keep safe while using generators and extension cords, the latest on the Longshore golf course, and hundreds of life hacks.
And he does it all in a folksy, comforting voice combining the best of Brian Lehrer, Garrison Keillor and FDR.
There’s not much good about our current weather crisis. But Nate Gibbons makes it almost bearable.
Les Dinkin was at Compo Beach today. He noticed:
It’s very empty. Sure, it’s a beautiful August Saturday. But most Westporters have a few other things to do right now.
A reminder about remembering all the things we take for granted. As someone whose power came back about half an hour ago, I could not agree more.
Trees and bushes in the Compo neighborhood look very brown. Les wonders if it’s from the wind. Or perhaps salt water from the storm?
Jeff Seaver sends along this message from John Dulligan, government liaison for Altice, the parent company of Optimum. Suffice it to say, Jeff is not impressed:
As you probably know, this storm caused widespread damage. The vast majority of the service-related issues for our customers relate to commercial power impacts. To the extent that there are impacts on our plant due to the storm, we need to ensure the situations are safe prior to proceeding. We are working as fast as we can to restore services if the outage is not related to loss of commercial power. There can certainly be scenarios where power dips (on then off) which is typically the result of our services coming on and dropping again.
And finally … let’s update Sam Cooke’s 1963 classic with the words: “Another Saturday night, and I ain’t got no power …”
He’s Westport’s newest — and unlikeliest — folk hero.
Who would have thought a fire inspector, giving daily post-hurricane briefings on a high school radio station, would develop such a cult following?
Westporters listened in — to loop after endless loop — just to hear his reassuring voice.
They learned important information (like generator safety) along with trivia (the difference between flotsam and jetsam*).
No one wants another natural disaster. But when it comes, Nate Gibbons’ soothing, articulate voice — packing tons of news and practical ideas into every sentence, leavened with just enough light humor to make life bearable — will be the first place Westport turns.
Here is how remarkable Nate Gibbons is: His work as Westport Fire Department public information officer — sitting in on Emergency Operations Center meetings, then conveying everything discussed by professionals to stressed-out Westporters in clear, easy-to-understand paragraphs — is not his only job.
As a fire inspector, he’s got to worry about life-and-death issues during crises. When Hurricane Sandy sent water roaring down Main Street, for instance, he knew what was happening to the electrical systems lying just below the grates. He feared massive fires, like the ones that destroyed parts of Queens. Nate pushed to cut power downtown, even before the winds picked up.
Those decisions sound like the result of a lifetime spent in the Fire Department.
Which Nate has not done.
Nate Gibbons is also an avid outdoorsman.
In high school, he was a radio DJ. After graduating from Yale University — as a Branford College “Scholar of the House” — he worked in television. He built Cablevision’s 1st studio, in the basement of 265 Post Road West.
Nate directed cable TV shows, and had his own production company.
But he was always interested in the fire department. In the 1980s — while serving as a volunteer — he watched as another TV company produced an atrocious training video here in town.
Nate knew he could do it better. When he won the contract for the next video, he did. On that shoot, a firefighter told him he should join the department.
In 1995, he did.
It was a great homecoming. As a kid in Westport — growing up not far from the Green’s Farms fire station — he’d had a great time riding along as trucks responded to brush fires. (“You can’t do that today,” he says matter-of-factly.)
Though Nate has been the Westport Fire Department’s voice in previous disasters, they were blips on the weather radar compared to Sandy.
For nearly a week — starting the night of the hurricane — he went on WWPT-FM. In segments as brief as 3 minutes, and as long as 25, he talked about disaster preparedness and recovery. And he did it from every angle imaginable.
There are 3 types of information, Nate explains.
One is updates: road closings, power outages, shelter hours, etc.
Another is closings and openings — of roads, schools, that sort of thing.
A typical Nate Gibbons briefing includes information on road closings, and how to handle downed wires and trees. This was the scene earlier this month on North Avenue.
The 3rd is safety. “That’s second nature to me as an inspector. But it’s not necessarily known to everyone,” Nate says. Topics include how to use a generator, what to do when the power comes back on, and the importance of looking up for falling debris.
“I don’t joke about carbon monoxide,” Nate notes. “But I will say, ‘If you don’t know what a flue is, you shouldn’t have a fire in your fireplace.'”
Westport is filled with New Yorkers (and others) “who never owned a home before. People don’t necessarily know how to operate their homes. There’s no user’s manual.”
So he provides one.
He reads from a script. (Don’t ask where he finds the time to write one.) It’s vetted by Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury and a deputy. First Selectman Gordon Joseloff — a former journalist — also provides good advice.
Nate is filled with praise for Kinsbury, and the entire 65-person Westport Fire Department. “Officers slept at the EOC. Firefighters were on for 4 or 5 days straight.”
Nate was lucky. He lives in town. He went home for an hour or two, to check on his own house.
But then it was back to the fire station, and the transmitter used to communicate via 90.3 FM.
Now, his star turn over, Nate is back to his regular work. There’s a backlog of inspections to be done.
He’s also working on an after-action report, so the Westport Fire Department can be ready for the next disaster.
In his calm, steady — but authoritative voice — Nate says, “You know it’s going to come.”
* FUN NATE GIBBONS FACT: Flotsam is floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo. Jetsam is part of a ship, its equipment or its cargo that is purposefully cast overboard (“jettisoned”) to lighten the load in time of distress.
RTM member Don Bergmann sent this email to First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, Police Chief Dale Call, Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury, Public Works director Steve Edwards, Parks and Rec director Stuart McCarthy, and Human Services head Barbara Butler — plus all town employees and volunteers.
It’s a sentiment worth repeating, loud and often, by every Westporter:
As I have said to some of you personally already, you all did a terrific job during and after Sandy. All I have spoken with have expressed the same sentiment.
While some of you may simply say “that’s my job,” your performance was so much more than that. I and the whole town thank you. Please share my thoughts with all of your people.
Nate Gibbons — the face behind the voice.
Whether it was the emergency radio information (Nate Gibbons is ready for “prime time”), the advance warnings, the regular flow of information, the incredible cleanup of our roads and especially our beach areas, the pressure applied to CL&P, the efficient and effective manner in which the electrical issues in our low-lying areas were addressed and the work of people such as Barbara Butler, Sue Pfister and so many others (and of course all within our fire and police departments, most of whom are not known to us by name), all became a testatment to the skills and commitments of you and the many who work for and with you.
Thanks to WestportNow.com for this edited update of this morning’s Emergency Operations Center broadcast by fire inspector Nate Gibbons, on WWPT-FM 90.3:
Power restorations are continuing today with slow but steady progress. Yesterday we were 88 percent out, today we’re about 70 percent out.
Hillspoint Road and Hales Court got their power back last night. Today it’s likely that Compo Road South will get power on down as far as the Minute Man statue.
CL&P has three tree crews and 15 line crews working in town, and today additional out-of-town help came from Hydro-Quebec.
Town crews continue to fight the battle to open all the town’s roads. Ten roads remain completely impassable at this time and both town and CL&P tree crews will be working to open them.
About 40 roads remain partially blocked with one lane of traffic. Please use caution and proceed past these leaning trees at no faster than a walking speed.
Main Street Westport has made remarkable progress towards getting their power back on. Twenty-four hours ago almost 60 stores were flooded and out of commission.
That number is now down to about a dozen. Building officials, the fire marshal and fire inspectors are working to square those away by early afternoon. We are hoping to energize Main Street later this afternoon.
This is not a guarantee and is contingent on clean electrical inspections in those remaining dozen stores. So, if you’re managing a store on Main Street, please have an employee in the store starting at 2 p.m. today. We want someone in every store when the power returns in case hidden damage causes a problem.
We will be staging fire apparatus on Main Street as a precaution when the switches get thrown.
The Building Department will be starting to check individual home electrical services in the heavily damaged beach and shore areas today. If you can get in touch with a private licensed electricians to inspect your home and certify it can safely have power restored, please do so. That will speed up the process. Town inspectors will carry identification.
Schools are closed the rest of the week. With cold nights now ahead of us, warming centers are being considered as is reopening a shelter for those with no heat.
Compo Beach is open. Burying Hill Beach is closed. And special alert to boaters -– all town marinas are open to day so you can check your vessels.
Friendly reminder to stay clear of the residential neighborhoods around the beaches. They remain unsafe in places, there is significant oil and sewage contamination, and remember that support for our neighbors who suffered this damage includes respecting their privacy.
The transfer station is open on the Connector – as is the yard waste site. The Resco plant is still closed, so please consider holding your trash for a few days as space is limited at the dump.
The Westport Weston Family Y remains closed and will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
The Saugatuck Shores area is still “residents only.” Harbor Road is open to emergency vehicles and utility crews only. Residents should use Marsh Court to access the shores. The wood bridge is still out.
Wires are still a big risk. Treat all downed wires as live. Give them a wide berth- 15 feet at least.
If you see wires burning or sparking, propane tanks leaking, smell a strong odor of gas, or other immediately life-threatening emergency, call 911.
If you have wires down that are not burning, report them to CL&P by calling 800-286-2000.
If you have an issue with fuel oil or a fuel oil tank that has tipped over or is leaking, please call the fire department at 203-341-5011.
Keep your eyes peeled for hanging branches that can drop without warning.
Do not drive past barriers or fire line tape. Do not remove barriers or fire line tape- they are there for all of our protection.
Food—if your fridge and freezer have been out since Monday, it’s past the time to safely eat anything. Please don’t take the risk.
Water—if you need water, all our fire stations have hoses available for filling your own bottles and containers.
Trash disposal – there is no bulk pick-up of waterlogged items by the town. If you pile stuff on the road, crews have been instructed to push it back onto your property. Please hire a contractor or dumpster to dispose of your damaged materials.
If you are using a portable generator, please pay attention to the following critical safety rules:
Run all generators outside your dwelling a minimum of 15 feet away.
Do not run them in a garage ever. Use heavy duty extension cords only.
Do not use light duty lamp cord or the cheapy green cords we use for holiday lighting.
Plug only one appliance into each extension cord at a time. Check the extension cord for temperature. If it gets warm or hot to the touch disconnect it immediately.
Never refuel your generator while it’s running. Turn it off, gas it up, then re-start it.
Fireplaces, wood stoves and heaters – it’s going to get cold over the next few days and many of us will be burning wood to heat our homes. Please remember the following important safety guidelines
If you haven’t used your fireplace in several years. Have a pro check it out first.
Make sure the flue is open. If you don’t know what a flue is, then you shouldn’t be using the fireplace to begin with. And when you go to bed, you leave the flue open all night. Closing the flue can trap CO in your home and poison you.
Third – only burn wood, kindling, and newspaper in your fireplace. No combustible liquids, no garbage, and never, ever, ever gasoline.
Use a fire screen. Keep all combustibles well clear of the hearth, and if you’re using those pre-fab pressed sawdust logs, only burn one at a time.
If you are using a portable heater and powering it off a generator, heaters draw lots of current. Use only a heavy duty extension cord, 12-3 at least.
Check the cord for overheating while the heater is running, and always keep the heater away from bedding, upholstery, rugs, or other combustible items. You heater should also have a safety cut out that kills it if it tips over.
And traffic – Be sure you come to a complete stop at any traffic light that has no power.
We’ve had a number of folks calling in to volunteer with our monumental clean-up task. Parks and Rec will be coordinating these efforts, and later today I should have a contact number for all you potential volunteers.
For the most updated information go to the town’s website, www.westportct.gov. At that site you can also sign up for Twitter updates, and also if you have not already done so, sign up for the CodeRed telephone and email alerts.
Check the link at the town site for the status on road closures. The next update will be today after 4 p.m.
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