Sandy wrap-up: Residents turn to social media during storm

Life returned to normal for most residents in the week following Hurricane Sandy.

Most marked the crisis as ending when their power came back on. United Illuminating Co. restored about 97% of town by Sunday, a day ahead of its Monday night prediction.

But progress was frustratingly slow in some areas of town, a fact that had First Selectman Timothy Herbst fuming Friday when he publicly criticized the company for its response.

"UI needs to understand that this situation is bigger than their business and bigger than them selling us power at the highest cost in the continental U.S.," Herbst said. "This is about people's lives and well-being. They need to get more manpower down here."

In particular, Herbst cited the conditions at Stern Village, a senior housing complex on Hedgehog Circle. The homes there have electric heat and utilities, and with temperatures falling the town announced a voluntary evacuation, and about 25 of the village's 200 residents took shelter in Madison Middle School.

"We have 200 seniors there with no lights, no food and no heat," Herbst said. "UI told me they could tell their make-safe crew to prioritize Stern Village, but they couldn't guarantee when they would restore power. Wrong answer!"

The town distributed 200 bottles of water and Meals-Ready-to-Eat to the remaining residents at the complex. Power returned late Saturday, considerably later than promised, Herbst said.

Social media

With many residents without power, social media became a primary source of communication. Herbst gained nearly 200 new followers on his Twitter page during the storm, and residents used the social media platform for two-way communication.

"We are part of the 16%. Whole block no power with a downed line. Please don't let UI forget us!" tweeted Jenna Cinelli on Nov. 3, six days after the storm.

Trumbull resident Jack Alves sent a message of support after Hersbt criticized UI's progress on radio station WICC.

"No power still but @timherbst told the truth on the radio, good stuff," he wrote.

As time went by and residents were still without power, their comments grew more critical.

"We are cold and tired on Ascolese off of Lake. Mr. Herbst help us!!! Even the 12% are voters!!!" tweeted a user named Vinny0227.

Twitter users also vented their frustrations to the Trumbull Times, criticizing UI and the town, but also thanking town workers for their efforts and offering encouragement to each other.

"@TrumbullTimes @unitedillum power still out for us. This is starting to get real old," tweeted Mike Ahearn.

Users also tweeted useful information, such as which businesses were open, which gas stations were selling gas and where people could find ice, a hot meal or an outlet to plug in their phones and laptops.

At least one resident used Twitter to assist with the devastation in New York. User Katie Boland posted a request for businesses that had generators in stock on the Times Twitter page. She was directed to two local businesses by users who had also purchased generators.

"Thank you for your help!!! Home Depot on Rt 111 has them. I'm delivering it to my family in the Rockaways today," she replied.

User @mikeytouri kept the conversation light with a running commentary on his increasingly desperate situation.

"@TrumbullTimes day 2. 45 hours since the blackout. food supply thinning. Morale low. I hear a child crying in the distance. send UI soon." he wrote. A day later he followed with, "Day 3. 56 hours since the blackout. Food low. Water finished. Morale destroyed. Frostbite all over my body. Will the pain ever end."

Shortly after, he updated with "day 3. 60 hours since the blackout. food low. morale destroyed. frostbite covers my body. send UI quick. *cough*"

The situation seemed especially grim Nov. 2 when he posted "Day 4. 70 hours since the blackout. Food water and morale are diminished. Death is everywhere. My heart struggles to beat. No more. Please."

Relief finally arrived late Nov. 2. "Day 5. 80 hours. Power was just restored. As I collect my belongings, I reminisce on my painful past. Then I rejoice. Peace. At last."