Powell on Sandy: Way from the worst, what's our excuse?

Gov. Malloy warned that Hurricane Sandy would be the greatest threat to life in Connecticut since the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. Thanks to him and the weather forecasters, it wasn't such a threat, since they provided the decisive difference with the 1938 storm — plenty of warning. Indeed, eventually overdone, such warnings began to seem like exhortations to suicide.

But the warnings were heeded enough and the storm's worst violence stayed far enough to the southwest that Connecticut seems to have suffered only four fatalities. Two were just cruel fate, caused by trees falling on people who had every reason to be where they were, a firefighter protecting life and property in Easton and a woman leaving her darkened house in Mansfield. The two other fatalities were people who defied the warnings and fooled around near the water as the storm came in.

Whether Connecticut's two major electric utility companies will restore power faster than they did after the freak snowstorm last October remains to be seen. But this time they summoned plenty of extra help in advance, and this time state government was well prepared to create a comprehensive inventory of problems.

While last October the northern part of Connecticut got the worst of the storm, with more snow bringing down more trees on more power lines, this time the southern part of the state was hardest hit — by flooding. Please, this time let there be no promises of government assistance such as there were last year, after another tropical storm, for rebuilding beach houses that never should have been built in the first place. Let the beachfront be cleared and claimed for public enjoyment.

In one sense Connecticut was actually safer on account of the hurricane. Since the bad weather kept the gangsters off the streets, Connecticut's impoverished and anarchic cities went a couple of days without their usual murders, and, particularly, no children were shot in crossfires like those that recently happened in New Haven and Bridgeport. In Connecticut's cities a good rain or snow is always worth fleets of police patrol cars and platoons of detectives, probation officers, and judges.

Since the hurricane's flooding, like flooding from other storms, caused storm drains to overflow sewage treatment plants and push raw sewage into rivers and Long Island Sound, the hurricane also offered Connecticut a reminder of the infrastructure deficiencies that could be addressed if government ever wanted to get serious with public works instead of undertaking glamorous construction projects of doubtful value. Citing the sewage problems, the governor half-seriously warned people not to eat the oysters and clams in the vicinity for a while. No journalist in the governor's entourage thought to ask whether, for the sake of the environment, Connecticut might do better to trade the Hartford-New Britain busway project for modernized urban sanitation systems.

At least the hundreds of thousands of people in Connecticut who are still waiting for their electricity to be restored may have the consolation that they aren't suffering through the damage and chaos caused by the hurricane in New York City and New Jersey. An entire neighborhood in Queens burned to the ground, people on Staten Island were trapped in their attics by the water downstairs, and damage to railroad and subway tunnels is likely to take far longer to repair than Connecticut's power lines. The tunnels have never flooded like this before and they are the arteries of the metropolitan area, carrying about 5 million passengers each day. As long as those passengers can't get back and forth from work, the economic loss will be enormous every day.

It's the kind of economic damage Connecticut lately has been suffering only because of its political decisions. Because of the weather, New York and New Jersey don't need an excuse. As Connecticut is still at a safe distance from the worst of everything, what's ours?

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.