The West Hartford Fire Department and West Hartford Police Department are responding to a barrage of calls resulting from Thursday morning’s torrential rainfall.
By Ronni Newton
Torrential downpours from the remnants of Fred, now a post-tropical cyclone, dropped an estimated 5 or more inches of rain in the West Hartford area Thursday morning, flooding roads and swamping vehicles, yards, and basements.
“West Hartford public safety units (police and fire) are responding to a variety of calls, many weather-related,” Fire Chief Greg Priest said Thursday morning. “Emergency calls take priority and there are high call volumes in the dispatch center.”
Priest said emergency responders were working closely with the Department of Public Works, and at 8:45 a.m. said they were expecting the road flooding to recede as the storm moved north and east of the area.
“The Fire Department is also attempting to bring in additional personnel to assist with numerous flooded basement calls. Every incident is triaged and will receive a response. We ask for your patience and remind folks that 911 is for emergencies only,” Priest said.
Members of the fire department are cross-trained to respond to medical as well as other emergency, and Priest said the purpose for bringing in additional staff is “to expedite the water removal from flooded basements while still prepared for and responding to emergencies.”
Capt. Eric Rocheleau of the West Hartford Police Department said this was one of the more challenging storms responders have experienced, with significant flooding throughout town. The area north of Albany Avenue and east of North Main Street, along with other low-lying areas of town, including in the Center, were particularly hard-hit, he said.
“It was all over town, from the north end to Elmwood,” Rocheleau said.
On Prospect Lane, just south of Boulevard off Prospect Avenue, there was a report of 5 feet of water in the roadway, Rocheleau said.
In the Bishops Corner area, mulch from the landscaping at the corner gas stations was floating around in the roadway, he said.
Police were assisting Public Works closing off roadways, and while many streets reopened later in the morning as the flood waters began to recede, cars that stalled out in the water remain in some roadways creating another type of traffic hazard.
Rocheleau said the number of vehicles that stalled out in the rain were too many to count, with many calls involving multiple cars that became disabled after drivers attempted to cross through flooded areas.
“It’s been busy, and definitely a challenge for the first responders in town,” Rocheleau said. By 11 a.m., at least 150 calls had been received in the dispatch center.
Calls began coming in around 6 a.m.
“There were so many 911 calls that our phone lines had to roll over to other towns,” Rocheleau said. Two additional dispatchers as well as a supervisor were brought in to deal with the extra volume but they still had trouble keeping up with it.
All calls have been logged, and responders are working through them. The fire department will be busy responding for the rest of the day, Rocheleau said.
West Hartford resident John Lyons, who has developed a following on local social media pages for his accurate and detailed weather forecasts, said that although we didn’t get a direct hit from Fred, we were close enough to pick up an estimated 5 inches of rain as the center of the storm passed to the north. He shared a photo of what is normally a small creek in his own backyard that turned into a lake.
“Fred, combined with a retreating cold front to our south, allowed instability in the air mass locally resulting in monsoonal rains starting around 5 a.m. and ending around 8 a.m., Lyons said.
“Rainfall rates were in excess of 1 inch per hour and several reporting stations are showing nearly 5 inches of rain fell during that time. It was amazing to watch, we don’t see that kind of rain around here often at all. Even the biggest nor’easter‘s aren’t capable of producing that amount of rain.”
Lyons also cautioned residents to be very careful in flooded basements. “Do not step in or touch the water as it can become electrified if close enough to an electrical source. Call your insurance company for instructions on how to handle.”
Officials reminded motorists that it is never a good idea to drive through flooded roadways as it’s impossible to determine how deep the water is.
“Every street in my neighborhood is flooded with cars stalled in the middle of the water,” said Cheyney Barrieau, who shared a photo of Brewster Street.
Char Larsen shared a photo of Trout Brook Drive, and said cars were floating down the street.
Town Manager Matt Hart said that all pools are closed for the day, and there is significant flooding in the lower level of the Faxon Library.
He urged residents to avoid walking in the standing water, and said children should not play in it because it may be contaminated with petroleum, bacteria, and other substances.
Town officials are monitoring predictions for a possible tropical storm this weekend, Hart said.
In an alert just after noon on Thursday, Town of West Hartford officials shared the following message:
West Hartford public safety have added personnel to respond to the high call volume. Every call and incident are triaged and every person will receive a response. We ask for your patience. Please remember 911 is for emergencies only. All non-emergency calls, such as flooding, should be directed to 860-523-5203.
The Town would like to make sure that we document all areas that experienced severe flooding. Residents are asked to email to the Office of Emergency Management at [email protected] with a description of the issue and any photos or videos you may have. Please include your name, phone number, street, and the closest house number to the problem area in case we need to follow up. Identifying poor drainage areas helps the Town of West Hartford manage and correct storm water issues.
Public Works, Fire and Police have brought in additional crews to assist with the aftermath of the storm. The Fire Department has added staff to expedite water removal from flooded basements.
Public Works crews are making their way through town and taping off roads that are severely flooded. Please do not attempt to go under or pass through these blocked areas. This is a public safety measure to protect you and your vehicle. Wait until the tape is removed which indicates the road is all clear and safe to pass once again.
Do not allow children to play in standing water. Standing water/floodwater can be harmful to your health. Floodwater may contain downed power lines, household, medical, and industrial hazardous waste, human and livestock waste, stray animals and other contaminants that can lead to illness. Exposure to contaminated water can cause skin infections, rashes, gastrointestinal illness, or tetanus. The best way to protect yourself is to avoid standing water. If you must come in contact with floodwater, gear up with rubber boots, waders, and/or gloves.
Mosquitos lay eggs in areas surrounding floodwater causing an increased mosquito population. To control mosquitos indoors and outdoors – use screens on windows and doors; empty, cover, turn over, or throw out items that hold water such as tires, buckets, planters, open containers, and birdbaths. To protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites, use insect repellent and wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
Town pools are closed until further notice.
Forecasters are calling for another significant storm on Sunday night into Monday. Town staff are preparing for this second round of storms by sweeping streets and tops of catch basins in areas that were severely flooded.
Residents can help by taking a look at the closest catch basin near their home and removing debris that has accumulated on top. Allowing water to flow freely will help reduce flooding. We appreciate your help.
Residents should also prepare their homes by moving items stored on their basement floors to a higher location. There is no better time than right now to prepare for emergencies. Visit http://www.getreadycapitolregion.org for instructions by following these three easy steps: Be Aware, Plan and Prepare. FEMA’s ‘Be Prepared for a Flood,” information sheet has helpful information: https://www.ready.gov/sites/default/files/2020-03/flood_information-sheet.pdf
Lastly, get alerts from the Town of West Hartford regarding about emergencies and other important community news by signing up for the Community Alert Notification. Go to https://member.everbridge.net/892807736721717/login.
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