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The Stokes Report: A Powerless Week Brings Out a Community’s Best

Volunteerism in Enfield at its best.

October 29, 2011 will go down in Connecticut history as the worst weather day ever. The days leading up to the storm were filled with news reports of heavy, wet snow, and with leaves still on the trees, it meant we were ripe for disaster.  

On Saturday as the snow began to fall, we quickly learned that this was going to be a bad situation. By 6:00 p.m. power began to go out, darkness set in and the sounds of horror put everyone on edge. Trees that had not yet lost their leaves suddenly collapsed with the weight of snow. It sounded like gunfire going off throughout our town.  

At our home, we watched with unsettled emotions as limbs from trees near the house began to break and hit the ground, sending vibrations through the house. The limbs then hit the roof and as we prepared for bed, a giant branch crashed through our bedroom window. I am sure there are many stories like ours. It was the scariest night I can remember.  

By Sunday afternoon, we became aware of how extensive the damage was all around our region. CL&P put the word out that it could be seven days before power was restored. For many it was even longer.  

Hours turned into days and days turned into a week before we enjoyed electricity. Each night as the sun went down, we felt discouraged. Trying to stay warm, find food, and get gas was a daily adventure.

For us, power was restored on Saturday night, November 5th, and we knew we would never take the simple things of life for granted again.  

But as we worked through the week of horror, we found the true character of our community. As soon as the storm hit and we realized the extreme nature of damage, political campaigns were suspended and elected officials and candidates seeking to serve truly began to serve.  

The emergency operations center was established and began to plan and implement strategies to help our community. Police, fire rescue, and EMS went into overdrive to respond to the needs of people suffering from the storm.  

The Mayor and every other elected official worked together to assist wherever help was needed. Mayor Scott Kaupin quickly found himself in the role of chief communicator, calming nerves and providing almost hourly updates on what was taking place in town.  

The week following was a difficult time to say the least, but there were some good things that we all observed.  

We will all remember words like “restoration” and “reenergize.” But the one word that defines Enfield is “volunteerism.”  

From the moment the storm hit, neighbors started looking out for each other. People began to share resources like generators, food, grills, and firewood. An army of volunteers converged on John F. Kennedy Middle School and Enfield High School to open emergency shelters.  

Not only did these shelters provide warmth on cold nights, but they also provided food, places to charge cell phones, hot showers, entertainment, and an atmosphere of support and comfort.  

What impressed me the most was how many teens came and assisted people at the shelters. These young people could have just stayed home and waited out the week. But they showed up and helped strangers who would soon turn into friends.  

Then there was the sound of chainsaws around the neighborhoods where people simply went from house to house clearing debris and checking on people. Volunteerism was the word of the week, and we proved that Enfield is indeed a great place to live.  

In the weeks, month and years ahead, we will all share stories about the October storm of 2011. There will be discussions of loss, fear, and even some pain. But the overall theme in our home will be how a community came together and made a difficult week a little easier.  

I want to mention one last thing. The storm hit just days before an election. The last week of any campaign is usually the final push for votes. Sometimes negative things pop up that are used to persuade voters. But, not this year. Instead of debating issues, Democrats and Republicans came together and worked side by side to care for a community we all love.  

Some will say the storm disrupted the election and that if the storm had not happened, the results may have been different. From my perspective, the storm may have changed the course of the election, but it unified the town.  

Think about this: If we can work together in the storm and its aftermath, we sure can work together in all situations.  

Thank you to all who volunteered. Your selflessness is what makes our town a community.

Pat Droney November 14, 2011 at 06:57 PM
Another stellar column Greg. Great job. Hopefully we can build upon the good that came out of a very bad situation.
Bill Kiner November 15, 2011 at 02:05 AM
Greg, I was proud of our town. People throughout the state came together. You expressed that so well.

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