By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) _ Some shoreline residents spent the night stranded in their homes by floodwaters as Superstorm Sandy pummeled the state with a devastating storm surge and high winds, killing at least two people and damaging property from Stonington to Greenwich.
Two homes in Old Saybrook were destroyed by fire after crews were unable to reach them due to floodwaters.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took to television and radio to warn those trapped not to attempt to swim to safety, and officials asked those in need of help to hang white sheets or towels from their windows.
“This is a rather (Hurricane) Katrina-like warning that we are issuing to people who did not take the advice that was given to them earlier in this crisis,” Malloy said Monday night. “We have communities that we now know are cut off and houses that are cut off, so that’s who we are speaking to.”
Two people were killed by falling trees on opposite sides of the state. In Easton, a firefighter died when the truck he was riding in was hit by a tree before 6 p.m.
Another person was killed and two family members injured in Mansfield when a tree fell on them. State police say the family had lost power and was trying to make its way to the home of a neighbor who still had electricity.
The Coast Guard was searching for a 40-year-old man who disappeared in the waters off Milford. Authorities say Brian Bakunas was last seen swimming in heavy surf near the Walnut Beach Pier shortly before 8 p.m.
It was unclear if anyone was inside the burning homes in Old Saybrook, which were in an area of Chalker Beach that was under a mandatory evacuation order. Chief JT Dunn told NBC Connecticut that a team of firefighters in water rescue suits used a retired military vehicle to try to rescue anyone remaining in the homes, but the vehicle lost electrical systems in the floodwaters, and they couldn’t continue to the fire because the water was several feet deep.
More than 615,000 customers were without power late Monday.
About 360,000 people in 30 towns were urged to leave their homes under mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders, but Malloy said it was apparent that towns and residents did not all take the warnings seriously enough. He said he suspected there were thousands in harm’s way and he would worry later about “who should have done what.”
Fire crews in Greenwich and Old Saybrook watched helplessly as several homes burned in beach areas cut off by floodwaters. No injuries were reported in those fires.
Earlier Monday, officials including Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch knocked on doors as water began spilling into the city.
“The water’s got no place to go. It’s been pushed all the way up the coast into this funnel,” Finch said.
United Illuminating was forced to shut off three substations in the city to prevent seawater from hitting energized equipment and causing a catastrophic failure.
Connecticut Light & Power workers spent most of Monday constructing a 6-foot concrete wall around a substation in Stamford in an attempt to keep the water at bay.
Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia said city officials were concerned the storm surge could push water over a hurricane barrier built by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect the downtown area after hurricanes in 1938, 1955 and 1956. If the surge reached 12 feet, it could push water over the barrier and flood downtown Stamford.
“That is something that we can’t even imagine,” Pavia said. “I always believed it was impregnable.”
The storm surge exceeded 13 feet in western Long Island Sound, driven partly by a full moon and high tides, forecasters said, and officials feared winds from the massive storm would keep the water from draining at low tide.
Sandy, which had been a hurricane, roared ashore on the New Jersey coast Monday evening as a dangerous hybrid storm, combining with a wintry system from the west and cold air from the Arctic.
Malloy said 850 National Guardsmen were deployed around the state and would remain in Connecticut during the storm and its immediate aftermath. With winds above 50 mph forecast for much of the state, the governor also banned trucks and nonemergency vehicles from most highways beginning at 1 p.m. Monday.
Water spilled over a beach road in Fairfield, where some residents decided to ride out the storm in homes near the water despite official warnings.
“I didn’t like my options,” Bob Gigliotti said when asked why he was not evacuating.
Associated Press writers Dave Collins, Pat Eaton-Robb and Michael Melia in Hartford and Susan Haigh in New London contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)