Bridgeport: We Need Help


State Rep. Andres Ayala, center, inspects damage in Bridgeport.
Frustration is growing in Bridgeport, Connecticut’s largest city.   Still reeling from Superstorm Sandy, its top elected officials and residents are wondering what is taking so long for United Illuminating to begin restoring power in a meaningful way.
As of Thursday at 7 a.m., almost half (48.86%) of Bridgeport’s electrical customers were without power. That’s compared to 7.74% in New Haven and 0.14% in Hartford – the state’s two next largest cities. Stamford, like Hartford served by CL&P, is similar to New Haven at 26%. New Haven and Stamford showed marked improvement Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch told,  “This was a devastating storm. We were prepared and are thankful that we were able to avoid any major incident. I share the frustrations of Bridgeport residents with our utility company’s power restoration efforts in the city. I don’t believe that UI has done enough in Bridgeport to get power back up and running. The lack of power makes it impossible for many of our residents to go to work. When they can’t go to work, they don’t get paid.”
State Rep. Andres Ayala, who next week could become one of Bridgeport’s state senators, said “We just don’t see enough UI teams here in the city to get the city up and running,  UI is giving us the usual song and dance they usually give, but the reality is they can be doing more.”  He added, the utility’s slow response is puzzling in light of the fact that “the important thing here is we averted the worst part of the storm.”
When Ayala talks about help, he specifically means for the residents who may not be able to provide for themselves. Bridgeport’s Latino population is 39% and its African American population is 34% of the city’s 144,000 residents.
“I am currently with the mayor at one of our housing projects, Marina Village and the whole unit is down. Not one apartment has power. Tenants are upset. The city has delivered cots and warm food. The city is doing its part but we need UI.” Ayala pointed out. “We house two hospitals, a water and sewer treatment facility and we provide services to surrounding regions so it is mind boggling. We need help.”
The state has  already kicked in support. According to the Connecticut Post, since Monday, “nearly 100 Connecticut National Guardsmen from the 643rd Military Police Company based in Westbrook, and the 192nd Engineer Battalion in Stratford, have been deployed to storm-damaged Bridgeport by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The soldiers are working 12-hour shifts all day and night.”
Lt. Col. Craig Nowak, assigned to the engineering unit, told the Connecticut Post, his men were called to the United Illuminating substation on Congress to help pump out incoming sea water threatening to fry sensitive equipment. At one point the water came in so fast that Guardsmen had to evacuate UI workers, including a company vice president. The substation was turned off for much of Monday night because of the flooding.
UI did not return messages seeking comment. It posted this statement on its website about its efforts in general: “We fully understand that the loss of electricity seriously disrupts people’s lives, and we have tapped into every resource at our disposal to restore power to all of our customers safely and as quickly as possible,” said Anthony J. Vallillo, UI president and chief operating officer. “We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding as we recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, one of the most powerful storms to ever hit our region.”