Falling tree kills Naugatuck man during storm

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated from an earlier version.

By Elio Gugliotti and Jason Levy, Staff

Many still without power as towns work to clean up

An oak tree rests on the home at 29 Woodcrest Drive in Prospect Wednesday morning after falling on the house Tuesday during Tropical Storm Isaias. -ELIO GUGLIOTTI

A 66-year-old Naugatuck man died Tuesday afternoon when a tree fell on him during the height of Tropical Storm Isaias.

Naugatuck police said the man, identified as Raymond Schultz, got out of his car in the area of Andrew Mountain Road and Red Maple Court to move branches out of the road when a tree fell on him. Police responded to the scene at about 3:30 p.m., and Schultz was presumed dead at the scene.

THE TROPICAL STORM packed a wallop Tuesday, bringing down trees and wires across the state and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power.

As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, Eversource reported 619,028 of its customers did not have power. More than 63% of customers in Prospect, 2,689, were without power. Nearly 27%, or 3,907, of customers in Naugatuck and 149, or about 5%, in Beacon Falls don’t have power.

In a statement, Eversource said the company anticipates restoring power to all its customers will take multiple days.

“The impact from this storm, in terms of power outages, is greater than Superstorm Sandy. The fierce winds with this storm caused widespread power outages and historic damage, affecting customers in all of the 149 communities we serve in Connecticut,” said Michael Hayhurst, vice president of electric operations in Connecticut, in the statement.

Beacon Falls First Selectman Gerard Smith said town officials are in constant contact with Eversource but the company didn’t have a time frame of when power will be restored.

Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said borough officials are working to clear roads and prioritizing where they need Eversource. The problem, he said, is the company has its own priority method and doesn’t always follow the borough’s direction.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said an Eversource representative told him the company is working on “priority calls” first.

“The whole town will not be back on by tonight,” he said.

FRANK BERTUCA WAS STANDING by the sliding door that leads out to the backyard of his home on Woodcrest Drive in Prospect Tuesday taking photos of branches and other debris that fell during the storm when he heard what sounded like something fall.

“At first I didn’t really know what happened, then it was like all of sudden it was like ‘thooomm.’ The house shook. It was like, ‘what the heck was that,’ and I turned around and saw the ceiling had fallen on the chairs,” he said.

A large oak tree uprooted and landed on the home Frank Bertuca and his wife, Lynn, share at 29 Woodcrest Drive. The tree fell at about 3:30 p.m., crashing through part of the attic and damaging the ceiling in the living room.

“Thankfully he’s OK and nobody got hurt,” said Lynn Bertuca, who was babysitting the couple’s grandchildren at the time.

As of Wednesday morning, the couple was waiting on a tree company to remove the oak tree and a contractor to make the roof water tight. Lynn Bertuca said it was unclear when the insurance company would make it out due to a high number of claims.

The Bertucas are able to stay in the house and still had power.

Lynn Bertuca said they had nearly a dozen trees taken down last summer to clear the backyard and she never expected a tree to fall on the house.

“It blew in. It blew out. As fast as it was here it was gone. It really was a fast moving storm,” she said. “Never in a million years would I have thought this would have happened.”

A downed tree and wires block a section of Skokorat Road in Beacon Falls Wednesday morning. –BEACON HOSE

JOHN BAGIONI, THE OWNER of Fax-Alert Weather Service in Burlington, said the storm was four to five hours ahead of schedule after it was pushed along by a jet stream. He said rainfall and wind gusts were both a bit lower than expected, estimating rainfall was under an inch in most places while wind gusts topped off between 50 and 60 miles per hour, with occasional gusts of 65 mph.

“It is not uncommon for systems to continually accelerate as they come north of the Carolinas,” Bagioni said. “It is almost like a race car coming out of a corner once they push the gas pedal to the floor, it just keeps going faster and faster.”

CHATFIELD SAID THE TOWN got “slammed” Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in my time here,” the longtime mayor said.

Chatfield said fire, police and public works crews were pulled off the road at about 3:30 p.m. due to the severity of the storm and went back out at about 5 p.m.

There were about 10 streets closed, including Maria Hotchkiss Road and Scott Road, due to fallen trees with wires in them, he said. The town was waiting on Eversource to respond, he said. Crews are working to remove debris from other areas of town, he said.

There is no emergency shelter set up due to COVID-19 concerns, Chatfield said.

Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 in Beacon Falls reported the department responded to about 20 calls by Tuesday afternoon, mostly for downed trees and wires. Numerous roads in town were closed due to fallen trees and wires.

Smith said only Old Turnpike Road and Burton Road were closed due to fallen wires as of early Wednesday afternoon. He said he only knows of one house that was damaged by a tree falling on it.

“We were prepared for the worst and were actually spared, all things considered,” he said.

Hess said there are 52 streets in the borough with wires down that require attention from Eversource.

“We are working with Eversource,” he said. “We have our own priorities, which we think should be done first. They have their own internal method of where to go first.”

Naugatuck Assistant Fire Chief Walter Seaman said there were another 10 to 12 roads that were impassable due to just fallen trees and public works crews are working to clear them.

Seaman said about eight houses had trees fall on them during the storm, but nobody was displaced. He said the fire department responded to over 100 storm-related calls.

“The entire borough was affected. We had incidents in pretty much every part of the borough,” said Seaman, adding the crew that was on did a fantastic job.

The Prospect Volunteer Fire Department reported Wednesday morning that the department responded to “countless” calls for trees and wires down, multiple carbon monoxide alarms, and a few medical emergencies. The department reported there were no storm-related injuries.

Andreas Yilma contributed to this report.