The sheer overload of problems hitting Connecticut residents over the past several months has been enough to drive even the hardiest souls to their knees.
And then Tropical Storm Isaisas barreled its way through Connecticut Tuesday afternoon, leaving hundreds of thousands without power or with damaged or compromised homes.
“2020 is the year that keeps on giving,” said state Sen. Matt Lesser. “It seems like It’s one thing after another.”
Millions of people are struggling with unemployment and financial insecurity. Massive protests over police accountability have consumed the nation as the country wakes up to a reckoning over racial injustice. Many have faced the challenge of simultaneously working from home while caring for children.
Isaisas, one of the most destructive storms in Connecticut history, has left roughly half the state without power.
For people who have retreated to the security of their homes to curb the spread of COVID-19 — successfully, it turns out, at least in Connecticut — Isaisas has rendered many homes nearly unlivable, at least temporarily, without electricity.
“Since the emotional support line opened in May, we’ve had numerous calls from Connecticut as well as other states throughout the country,” said Lori Johnson, Director of the Institute of Living Center at Hartford Hospital. “This storm has certainly added another layer of stress for people.”
Grocery shoppers, in the habit now of stockpiling food, tossed out entire refrigerators, after hours of waiting power to come back. Restaurant and take-out dining options, meanwhile, remain limited across the state.
And for many without electricity or internet connection, even go-to, humdrum activities keeping us sane — Netflix shows, Zoom calls with friends — were suddenly unreachable.
On Facebook, neighbors offered socially distant power outlets for charging phones, freezer and refrigerator space, even ice in to-go bags. Reports of long gas lines and huge wait times at Starbucks and Dunkin’ circulated on the internet.
Residents with severe medical issues, meanwhile, cobbled together quick fixes and jury rigged machines.
Michael Lawson, a 59-year-old programmer from Farmington who requires daily kidney dialysis, has been without power since 3 p.m. on Tuesday. For now, he runs an extension cord from an outside portable generator up a flight of stairs to his dialysis machine.
“I just hooked up [to dialysis] now and I seem to be okay,” Lawson said. “I normally do this at night when I’m sleeping, but I want to keep an eye on the generator.”
Until power is restored, Lawson’s work is on hold. He’s been using his car as a Wi-Fi hotspot, because cell service is also out.
“It’s frustrating because I’ve already used a lot of vacation days for medical stuff,” Lawson said. “One other thing I’m pissed at is the [Eversource] rate hike. It’s usually around $150 with an electric car plugged in. Now, even without the cars plugged in that much, it went up over $50, so it was over $200.”
Recently, the World Health Organization predicted an increase in suicide by 75,000 over the next year.
“We are beginning to see some of that actually taking place in Connecticut,” said Patricia Rehmer, senior vice president of Hartford HealthCare and president of the Behavioral Health Network.
Tropical Storm Isaisas, Rehmer added, has “absolutely pushed some people to their limit. We’re really encouraging people to think about the coping skills that have worked in the past.”
By Wednesday afternoon, many coping strategies were still unattainable. With downed power lines, trees and branches everywhere, runners couldn’t run. Online yoga was classes was inaccessible for those without power. Peloton users couldn’t connect for a group ride.
Chris Carson, of West Hartford, lost power around 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday. His family has since thrown out spoiled food. Without power to a CPAP machine, Carson stops breathing during sleep and wakes up violently. He’s looking into getting hotel rooms, although he has a large, elderly dog.
“We got one e-mail [from Eversource] and it wasn’t specific, just saying that they know our street was out, with no sense of when it would be fixed or even when somebody would be there,” Carson said “It’s extremely frustrating. there’s just no communication as to what the priorities are and who’s going to be taken care of. "
“The sense of not having a safe home is really profound because that that’s where we really get our sense of security,” said Dr. Julian Ford, professor of psychiatry and law at UConn Health.
“To have to be isolated because of the spread of the virus, and at the same time finding that the best place to be isolated to shelter in place is now either fundamentally altered, and maybe even destroyed or very seriously damaged: that’s just a double punch.”
At 9 a.m. on Wednesday, general manager Jason Behan sat outside the dark, cavernous Liberty Mazda dealership in Hartford, politely turning away customers who rolled up for scheduled oil changes.
After months of diminished car sales due to the coronavirus shutdown, business in June and July was surprisingly good. Until today.
“It’s gotten to the point where, you know, you almost just shrug and say, well, you know, what’s gonna be next?” Behan said. “I run a business that has 40 employees, and then at home also being a parent of young kids... You just keep waiting for like, okay, maybe we’re in the homestretch, and things just keep happening.”
People attempting to work or take classes at home drove around instead, looking for Wi-Fi hotspots or friends with power and space. Coffee shops closed their doors, or else filled up quickly with socially distanced customers.
By 9:20 a.m., West Hartford Coworking on New Park Avenue, which never lost power, was completely out of walk-in desk space, and most regular clients were already in their usual workspaces.
Owner Annisa Teich offered free phone charging and take-home bags of ice to preserve food for walk-in folks.
“Regular members who have been with us for a while are without power, and of course they’re here today,” said Teich, “but then we got a lot of calls this morning. So I’ll have a full house of our part time desks today for that reason. They don’t have power and need to work.”
Dr. Amber W. Childs, acting chief of psychology at Yale New Haven Hospital, emphasized the stress involved in losing power in the middle of an already traumatic period.
“Just as people have gone about the work of reorienting and finding equilibrium, they have this new challenge,” said Childs. “The technology that we’ve been able to rely on to help keep us tethered and connected to some semblance of our social supports and of previous lives may have been severed overnight for many people."
This comes at an especially devastating time, when many people are finally acclimating to the volume and pace of changes over the last several months.
“Some people might be sort of settling into a familiarity and expecting the unexpected,” Childs said. “But for other people, this is really amplifying pressures that they’ve already been experiencing. People haven’t had a chance to catch their breath and might be feeling especially overwhelmed.”
By 3 p.m. Wednesday, Chris Huestis of Andover was still without electricity or water.
“This is kind of the last straw,” Huestis said. “Eversource just raised their rates, and I don’t think anybody saw that coming. And now you can’t even get an estimate on power coming back because the website is down. It’s always something.”
Through it all, some Connecticut residents are able to roll with the changes.
Andy Chatfield of Bristol waited in line at the Home Depot in Middletown for generator engine oil. Several trucks blocked the contractor’s entrance. Inside, the lights were low, suggesting the building was working on a generator or alternate power source.
“We’re pretty lucky,” Chatfield said of he and his wife, Nessa. “We’ve both been able to keep working from home. We haven’t been had our jobs eliminated or furloughed. We just got married a month ago. I just need to get this generator working again and we’ll be fine.”
Michael Hamad can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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