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Outage Leaves Fernwood Apartments Residents Cold, Angry

The Westfield complex's occupants blame management for the long wait for electricity, and many are at their breaking point.

Five days without heat, electricity and hot water has strained the patience of two women — mother and daughter — who live at the 96-unit, two-building Fernwood Apartments off Washington Street.

Thursday at 4 p.m., Donna Duda, Sarah L. Duda's 62-year-old mother, was beside herself with anger. She spoke quickly, after saying her phone battery was dying.

“We’re in dire straits here. I've got no heat, no hot water, no food, running out of clothes. Washington Street is lit up like the Vegas strip. Monday, we went to the shelter for showers, there were 300 people there. [While waiting, personnel] said we could sit on the floor. If it’s that bad, call out the National Guard.”

At 3 p.m., her hallway was pitch black. Donna and the two kids were using a flashlight to make their way to the door.

At 2 p.m. Thursday, 6,135 — or 27 percent — of Connecticut Light & Power customers in Middletown were without power. Statewide Thursday evening, there were nearly 400,000 customers still without power since the freak snowstorm that hit the region Saturday and Sunday.

Sarah Duda first contacted Middletown Patch Tuesday just after noon. Her power, like most city residents, went out early Sunday morning. She said her two children, 3 and 5, stayed with her mother while Sarah worked first shift daily at an Old Saybrook real estate office.

A neighbor called to tell her residents were having the elderly “evacuated because temperatures in some apartments are below 48 degrees.”

At that point, Duda said, the mood among those living at Fernwood began to sour.

“The residents are disgusted. There's no power in more than half of Middletown, the shelter is past capacity, and there's not a hotel/motel room in miles. What do you do? Where do you go?”

That’s when she first began calling the property management company, CT Metro Holdings.

“According to the woman I finally got to speak with, they had no idea that when the power goes out, there's no heat or hot water in the building,” she said.

One ray of light, Sarah said, is that there's a grocery story down the street. But that gets expensive.

“Granted, I love the fact that Price Chopper has great take-out meals. It’s so close and so convenient you can just run in and run out.”

But, she said, being without power is not without its dangers.

“There was a fire in Building 44 Sunday,” Sarah said. “A gentleman started a fire with some paper to keep warm. He was arrested.”

And her little ones are getting antsy.

“They keep asking, ‘Mommy, when are we going to be able to take a warm bath?’”

Reached by phone Wednesday, a representative of the New Rochelle, N.Y., property management company echoed Duda’s account.

“There’s nothing we can do about it because in Connecticut, they have no power up there,” the rep said. “We’re hoping to hear from the property manager on-site and power will be restored between today and tomorrow.”

Middletown Patch called the phone number for the on-site property manager, but got an answering machine twice. Messages were not returned before this article was posted.

Monday, Sarah said, the wait for the showers at the girls’ locker room at Middletown High School was 2½ hours long.

“The line was out through the locker room, through the showers and out through the door — for three to four showers,” Sarah said.

Thursday at noon, the city's emergency operations department said numbers at the high school shelter had dwindled. Deputy Fire Chief Robert Kronenberger said as of 11 a.m., 131 residents had checked into the shelter and there's no wait for a hot shower.

Mostly though, Donna said, she wanted the electricity back for her, her daughter, her grandchildren, her cat and other residents.

“I'm mean, I'm nasty, I'm sick of this. We need some electricity here," she said. "[Management] is not doing anything at all. I’ve got laundry piled up like you would not believe. We’ve been living on pizza, chicken fingers and cereal. This is outrageous.”

Sarah said her mother is reluctant to pack everything up, including the cat, and take a bus to the shelter.

And it’s uncomfortably cold during the day inside, Donna said.

“Our apartment is 52 degrees," she said. "Others are in the 40s. We need help."

Sarah said she tried the hotel next door, Wesley Inn & Suites, earlier in the week. It had no power. She put her name on a waiting list for the Inn at Middletown. She was number 31 on that list.

Tuesday, Sarah said, "I have called the mayor's office. Who transferred me to the Health Department. Vinny from the Health Department basically told me 'not much we can do, except tell you to go to the shelter.'"

Then she realized there were many elderly on the third floor of Fernwood who can’t navigate the stairs. So, Sunday she went to Price Chopper to get cold cuts and made them all sandwiches.

“Everyone is just devastated,” Sarah said of the residents. “There’s no other way to put it.” And her mother, “she’s got a fountain coming out of her fridge, all the food is defrosting.”

Wednesday was Sarah’s birthday.

“All I want is a hot shower,” she said.

Reached at work Thursday, Sarah said she was concerned about the weather forecast for the next few days.

“I’m exhausted. It’s extremely cold at night. Tonight, it’s expected to drop into the 30s. All our pipes are going to freeze tonight. We have a gas furnace. All [the management] has to do is hook up a generator.”

And as it often happens during especially trying times, some occupants of the apartments in each of the two brick buildings are turning to a bit of levity to cope.

“A lot of us with a sense of humor are calling it ‘Survivor Fernwood,’” Sarah said.

Sarah hopes to regain power before too long.

"According to CL&P, we aren't expected to be fully back online until Sunday, November 6th, at midnight. I don't know what else to do."

Editor's note: Middletown Area Transit is still offering free bus rides to the shelter for showers, food, a heated room and electricity for charging. Call (860) 346-0212 for times and routes; they will send out a special bus in some cases.

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John Brush November 03, 2011 at 07:12 PM
The Fernwood Apartment complex is at 44 Camp St right around the corner from Wesley Inn and Suites on Washington St. Directly across Washington from Camp St is the complex containing Goodwill, CT Beverage and several other stores with full power since Monday evening. It is difficult to fathom how CL & P could allow these people to suffer in the dark/cold while living only a stone's throw from a fully powered area.
kalife November 07, 2011 at 01:23 AM
It is even more difficult to fathom how the out of state owners of Fernwood could fail to provide generators to power the furnaces. As long as they get their rent checks!

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