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October Snowstorm: What Happened in Our House

After losing power for a week with Storm Irene, the trees began to fall and we abandoned home for somewhere safer and warmer.

When the October snowstorm hit, my family had been living in a small house in Unionville for three months. The house is ringed by enormous older pine trees and fragile branches hang over the house. In the first month, Tropical Storm Irene hit, and while it didn’t have the lasting impact of the October storm, it dropped several large limbs on the roof – while my children watched out the big picture window. It left a power line on my car and left us without power for a week. We bought new salad dressing and recovered, though the kids were a little more fearful.

Then came the October storm. Lots of hype that we more or less ignore as we watched the snow gently fall, again from the picture window (the house’s only redeeming quality).  When it subsided, the kids ran outside, we made a snowman with M&M features and went back inside for hot cocoa and a return to normal activities.

But then came the real storm – wind, more snow and the creaking of branches overhead. The power went out and we watched the trees sway and gaped at how they bent over under the weight of the snow. My children cowered and I assured them it was fine – no branch could break through the roof.

My aunt called and I declined her invitation to retreat to her house in Unionville, where we stayed during our powerless time after Irene.

Well, the branches started falling. On the roof. In the yard. On the street. And just like that, with children whimpering I called back, “Auntie, we’re on our way,” I said.

It was warm there, safe, congenial. She had a generator that Uncle would bring over to his father’s house and his grandmother’s house every day to take the chill off. He plowed snow, moved debris, went back and forth to work and played with my kids, who stayed most of the next 11 days cooped up inside.

I got on the phone - but my phone didn’t work. Cell service was sporadic during the latter part of the 11 days and non-existent at the beginning. I used the house phone to keep in touch with police, the town manager and other town officials who were making an incredible effort to keep residents informed.

I posted endless updates – of closed roads, new deadlines from CL&P, directions from the town, increasingly frustrated responses from town officials who were demanding long overdue crews be sent to town. (The West Hartford Patch editor was allowed to stay in her town’s Emergency Operations Center and got to listen to the conference calls with CL&P and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. She told me one day she heard Farmington Town Manager Kathy Eagen in no uncertain terms expressing the needs of the valley and what had to happen. “Your town manager was amazing!” she said. And she wasn’t the only one to express that sentiment.)

Other denizens of the house where I stayed ate soup because it was warm. I ate gluten-free pasta and chips (yes for almost a week). We made treks throughout the area trying to find gas for the car and gas for the generator. We made daily trips back home to our house to feed and reassure the cats. The hermit crabs did not fare well through the freezing temps, but we don’t talk about that with the kids.

I visited the shelter and marveled at the town’s many volunteers and the smiles I saw on their faces. Everywhere – despite the chill, the scarcity of showers and the massive inconvenience – there were smiles. The firefighters sleeping in small rooms smiled, Nancy Parent overseeing 2,000 plus people smiled, the children playing on the floor in the hall of the high school smiled and the officials in the EOC all smiled.

Maybe because they were doing something amazing. We all were doing something amazing just living in suspended reality and doing everything we could to help each other.

We got power back relatively late. It was Election Day, where despite all the problems with polling places lacking power, the politicians were still smiling, holding signs and greeting those who made it out to vote.  

We don’t look at trees the same anymore and for months we didn’t buy salad dressing (someone suggested every time we did the power went out). I hope we never live through something like that storm again, but it’s kind of nice to remember that we did. 

Annemarie Mason October 25, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Wonderful recap of October/November 2011. My story was extremely similar, like most of the residents in Farmington/ and Unionville. Reading your story brought me to tears, as it brought me back to those innocent moments where on day 7-9, I was wondering when we could live 'normal' with electricity and running water. The experience that I won't forget is the sound of the tree branches cracking and then crashing to the ground. Over and over, all throughout the first night and even into the second night.
Cornelius (Neil) Lynch October 25, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Hurricane Sandy threatens to complete the old chestnut, "Bad things happen in threes." Let's hope that Mother Nature can't count. Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.

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