Published October 30. 2012 10:00AM Updated October 31. 2012 12:46AM
Robin Soule arrived at Crescent Beach in Niantic to find that the winds from Hurricane Sandy had blown the garage off the foundation of the summer home that has been in her family since 1909.
Jeff Ratner went to his vacation home on Chalker Beach in Old Saybrook and discovered that much of it was missing.
"It's gone," he said. "It's off the foundation."
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, state Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, and other officials toured the storm-ravaged shoreline in southeastern Connecticut Tuesday afternoon, listening to homeowners' stories. They also visited the American Red Cross regional shelter in East Lyme, where 230 people rode out the storm.
President Obama on Tuesday issued a major disaster declaration for the state's four shoreline counties, including New London and Middlesex.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who announced the declaration on live television Tuesday night, said he anticipates the federal government later expanding the designation to cover the entire state. The declaration will, among other things, provide monetary reimbursement to storm-affected individuals and towns.
Wyman, who earlier in the day navigated sand-covered streets in heels and ran from still-angry tides several times, offered a hug here and a few words of comfort there.
"The wind can't take away those good memories," she told sisters Ellie Fortunato of Newington and Delores Roseberry of East Hartford. The storm had blown off the front of the five-bedroom colonial style cottage on Crescent Beach that once belonged to their mother.
Wyman said she was covering the southeastern Connecticut shoreline, which was hard-hit by wind, while Malloy was in southwestern Connecticut, where water damage was more severe.
The governor is scheduled to pick up his ground tour in Stonington and New London this morning.
"It was a bad storm," Wyman said, saying four people had died: a kayaker and a swimmer in Milford, a firefighter in Easton and a 90-year-old Mansfield resident hit by a falling tree. Wyman also acknowledged the hardships the state's residents are facing due to massive power outages.
Seeing the damage on Crescent Beach, Courtney likened it to East Haven in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. "They got bombed," he said.
Nine waterfront houses, many built in the 1800s, had sustained damage, and the storm had washed out much of Atlantic Street.
Malloy said Sandy caused more extensive damage to the state than Irene, in some instances destroying sea walls. "It is extraordinary, the scope of the damage."
Details of specific relief services were not available Tuesday. A disaster declaration followed Tropical Storm Irene last year, providing hundreds of dollars in emergency food stamps for nearly 24,000 residents.
"Getting assistance and relief into Connecticut is my top priority," Malloy said, "and I want everyone to know that I am squarely focused on it."
Based on aerial assessments, "hundreds" of homes and buildings across the state were either heavily damaged or destroyed by the storm, he said.
Nearly 700,000 utility customers across the state were without power at the peak of the outages. A CL&P official said he anticipates at least one more day of damage assessments before setting a timetable for full restoration.
The governor was unaware of any looting, aside from an anecdote about a would-be thief who tried to steal a safe from an auto parts store in Bridgeport but was caught by National Guardsmen.
Property owners frustrated
In Niantic, First Selectman Paul Formica, Fire Marshal Richard Morris and other officials steered the politicians through the wreckage. In Old Saybrook, Police Chief Michael Spera, Fire Chief J.T. Dunn and others led the tour.
In both beachfront communities, frustrated property owners told the group they had just gone through Irene a year ago. They also said they wouldn't give up on their homes. In many cases, they said they had limited insurance coverage. It was unclear whether they would be eligible for any disaster-related funding for rebuilding.
Stillman promised she would do whatever she could to help.
"It's important for us to actually see it, not just hear about it," she said.
At Chalker Beach, the group visited two unoccupied houses on Saye Street that had caught fire at about 9 p.m. Tuesday. The fire department, unable to get to the scene because the neighborhood was under water, had to let one home burn. The fire spread to a second home, but it was not a total loss, according to Dunn, the fire chief.
"It's pretty sad for a fire department to have a house on fire and you couldn't get to it," he said.
Rescue officials were able to navigate the area in boats, but the fire department could not get a firetruck to the scene. Dunn said the department tried reaching the house with a military-type vehicle it owns, but the truck stalled and its lights went out, he said.
Dunn said the fire company monitored the tide and by 3:30 a.m., it had receded enough and he was able to wade through waist-high water to get to the house. The firefighters didn't get full access until Tuesday afternoon, when they used water to ensure the fire was completely extinguished.