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Elderly, Disabled Hit Hardest During Outages

HARTFORD, Conn. – Homebound, elderly and disabled residents were hit the worst of all by the October nor'easter and Hurricane Irene, advocates and health-care providers told a committee studying ways to better prepare for storms.

Many were left in the dark without the assistance of home health care aides who couldn't make it to their homes and without vital medical equipment that failed in the record-setting power outages, the advocates said Wednesday. Nearly 900,000 customers statewide lost power during the recent snowstorm, breaking the previous record set after Irene.

"We heard gut-wrenching testimony from people representing hospitals, home health care agencies, nursing homes and shelters about sick, elderly and disabled people who were left on their own without power during these storms," said Joseph McGee, vice president of the Business Council of Fairfield County. He is co-chairman of the Irene S.T.O.R.M panel appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that is now known as the Two-Storm Panel.

"It is abundantly clear these two storms, the latest an historic one considered the worst we've ever experienced in terms of losing power, impacted our most vulnerable citizens most," said McGee.

"We have a great deal of work to do in improving preparedness, communications and coordination to better cope with storms of this magnitude and even worse," he said. "Storms at this level are going to require far better delivery of services."

The panel also started to focus on how the state and power companies can develop better tree-trimming programs, McGee said. Fallen trees and branches were mostly to blame for the vast power outages after both storms, according to Connecticut Light & Power Co. and United Illuminating Co.

Despite recent budget increases, CL&P cleared fewer miles of wires of tree branches last year than it did a decade ago, according to testimony by state utility regulators. CL&P's state-approved budget for tree maintenance has fluctuated up and down over the past decade, but it hasn't matched the 3,532 miles of wires trimmed in 2001 in any year since, McGee said.

A UI representative told the panel that 300,000 trees are in the right-of-way near and around wires in the 17 towns and cities the company serves. CL&P, which serves 149 towns, is expected to provide similar information at the next hearing Nov. 15 at 9:30 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

With its expanded charge to study the pre-Halloween snowstorm, the panel will issue its competed report of recommendations by the middle of January, not by early December as originally planned.

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