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Norwalk Leaders Look Ahead to Next Irene

NORWALK, Conn. — The damage at Calf Pasture Beach is one of the few signs of the devastation Hurricane Irene caused in Norwalk last month. Another sign is the analysis city leaders offer on the response to Irene.

Mayor Richard Moccia is sensitive to the struggle people had in trying to determine whether they were in a flood-prone area. "I think in the future we'll probably do a better job in our mapping on our website and our own maps to more specifically identify flood areas," said Moccia. "Rather than a general flood-prone area we might be able to do more by streets."

Identifying flood-prone areas by street is easier in Stamford, he said. But Rowayton in particular has many little streets, some with only four or five houses. "We didn't have the ability to say specifically these streets" would be likely to flood, he said. "But I think if we had a better, more detailed map on the website people themselves could have an opportunity" to see for themselves, Moccia said. "Then when they called in, instead of looking at a general area we could have a little more specific map. I think we learned that."

Michele DeLuca, director of the Department of Emergency Management, said many things went right during Irene. It was correct to station a Norwalk Transit bus at Ryan Park in South Norwalk so residents could get a free ride to the shelter. Buses also ran on their regular routes, offering free rides.

About 150 people, four dogs and a cat used the shelter, probably the most ever, she said. Sixteen of the city's disaster volunteers made the Brien McMahon High School shelter work, DeLuca said.

Moccia said these were the results of lessons learned during tabletop exercises over the years.

DeLuca said she had learned one lesson during Irene. "We definitely need to get better at how we meet the needs during long-term power outages, see if we can have some feeding centers with hot meals so people can drop by at least once a day," she said. "Part of the plan we need to work a little more on."

The city's Plan 9 program worked, teaching people the nine things they need in an emergency, she said. The city will soon be selling crank-operated radios for residents to add to their disaster kits. Profits will be used to purchase such radios for group homes.

DeLuca said emailing the city's social service agencies was effective, although the weekend timing of the hurricane made it more challenging. Tad Diesel, director of business and marketing, sent many emails directed at the media and was thankful for all of the publicity. "I think the media in general was very supportive, and I think responsible for the success of getting the people informed," he said, adding that information went out immediately. "It made a difference."

Irene's power shows in the many missing planks of the fishing pier at Calf Pasture Beach. There is no timetable yet for repairs. "We are currently soliciting and reviewing proposals which outline the best, most efficient way to proceed with the repairs," said Ken Hughes of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

The seawall was also badly damaged. Hughes said, "Large pieces of the wall were strewn over the lawn" after Irene. "The tremendous water surge and wave actions during the hurricane caused the damage."

Contact reporter Nancy Chapman at nchapman@thedailynorwalk.com .

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