EAST HARTFORD - The Connecticut National Guard joined over 1,750 utility crews in Connecticut on Friday in efforts to clear trees and restore power to more than 400,000 homes and businesses still in the dark, as frustration continued to grow over the pace of the response to Tropical Storm Isaias.
Eversource, the state's largest electricity distributor, had nearly 1,200 crews working around Connecticut, including many from other states and Canada. United Illuminating, which serves shorelines areas from Fairfield to East Haven, said it had about 580 crews in the field.
Eversource said power will be restored to most of its customers by Tuesday night, while United Illuminating said power restoration should be substantially completed by Monday. State regulators have launched an investigation into both utilities' preparation and response to Tuesday's storm, which cut power to more than 700,000 customers as winds gusted to more than 60 mph (97 kph) and knocked down scores of trees and wires.
“I’m going to hold their feet to the fire every day until this is done,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Friday while touring storm damage in Westport.
The Democratic governor announced Friday that President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for Connecticut that will allow the state to request federal aid to fix the storm damage.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service confirmed Friday evening that a tornado, which began as a waterspout in Long Island Sound, made landfall in Westport on Tuesday at 1:40 p.m. Captured on video by a private meteorologist, the eventual tornado was blamed for tearing the roof off a house and causing other damage.
The two utility companies said their crews were working as fast as they can while keeping safe in restoring power.
“We recognize how disruptive power outages are to our customers’ lives and we’re urgently working around-the-clock to get every customer affected by Isaias back on line,” Craig Hallstrom, Eversource's president of regional electric operations, said in a statement.
Assurances by the two utilities did not quell the anger of customers who had been without electricity for three days. Many customers have been taking out their frustration in comments posted on Eversource and United Illuminating's social media pages.
Suzanne Berthiaume, 65, a retired floral designer who lives in East Hartford with her husband, a disabled veteran, said it has been a struggle living without power and water. She went to the town library on Friday afternoon to use free charging stations for her and her husband's cellphones.
She said they had to throw out all the food in their refrigerator, and have been ordering takeout and delivery for their meals.
“That’s getting expensive, but there’s nothing you can do,” Berthiaume said. “It's getting depressing. It's very scary, not knowing how long it's going to be.”
Mayor Mark Boughton of Danbury, where more than 13,000 homes and businesses - nearly 36% of customers -- remained without power Friday, was highly critical of Eversource's response. He said the first Eversource crews arrived in Danbury on Thursday, two days after the storm.
“They are here today in force, but I think this was just an abject failure by Eversource on every level,” Boughton said Friday, just before touring damage with Lamont. “There's something inherently wrong here.”
Boughton joined state and federal officials in expressing frustration that the utilities didn't appear to be prepared for the storms, despite having nine years to upgrade their systems and response plans following two storms in 2011 that both knocked out power to 800,000 customers.
Eversource said it spent $300 million, as part of an agreement with the state after those past storms, to strengthen its electricity system to help avoid extended storm-related outages. Under the plan, the company trimmed scores of trees, strengthened utility poles and equipment and installed coated, thicker-gauge wire.
State officials said Eversource underestimated Isaias' strength.
United Illuminating said its preparation and response to the storm were in line with its emergency plan that is filed with the state.
Two dozen National Guard members were helping United Illuminating to clear roads so utility crews could get to downed wires and other equipment, company officials said.