Since August, the region has suffered an earthquake, a tropical storm, flooding and the snowstorm of the century. While many of the region's residents are still shell shocked by the dramatic weather, the winter is yet to come. With hospital emergency room visits up 20 percent the week following the storm, and the Farmer's Almanac calling for heavy periods of snow ahead, understanding the problems of the last storm might prevent future hardships for many.
Matthew Burgard, spokesman for Waterbury Hospital, reported the increase in the emergency room visits and said some came to the hospital seeking shelter while others who relied on oxygen, nebulizers and other equipment suffered from the power outages. Several visits were due to carbon monoxide poisoning from cooking with charcoal or propane in the house, and misuse of generators.
Of the 12 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning seen at Waterbury Hospital, six were children and one was 10 month old baby who was transferred to the Children's Hospital.
Christopher Michos, M.D., chairman of the emergency room at Waterbury Hospital said, "Carbon monoxide is an odorless, deadly gas. Make sure you have a detector; they expire after five years, so be sure to keep them updated. We saw a lot of elderly and young patients, who are more susceptible to the gas. Young children breathe faster and their physiology makes them more vulnerable to the gases."
"While we didn't see any of snow blower accidents with this storm, people should remember that snow blowers pose a risk to fingers even after they have been turned off," Michos said.
The Danbury Hospital was called several times and did not return phone calls, however, in a Danbury Patch story, Danbury Fire Chief Geoff Herald reported . While they all survived, people in Connecticut did perish from the gas.
Besides the smoke from the generators, there are other gases to be concerned about.
Dr. Raymond Sullivan, director of the Department of Health in Brookfield, said, "It is extremely important not to operate any machinery within a closed space, in or near the house, and not to use a propane gas stove or any type of fuel operated instrument in or near the house. Be careful about the wood you use in your fireplace or wood burning stove. If wood has been treated there can be a problem. Certain individuals can have a sensitivity to wood smoke, its not unusual."
There are new existing laws regarding wood smoke from outdoor wood-burning furnaces, which can produce a great deal of smoke in a neighborhood, Sullivan said.
"In some cases, people are using wood burning furnaces to heat their home or their green houses, but it does put quite a bit of smoke in the atmosphere which can lay low over homes, especially in times of low pressure systems," he said.
During the long week following the storm, most towns set up shelters for those who were without power. The Pomeraug Health District provided medical staff for their shelters, supporting the Red Cross and other volunteers.
"In Southbury we had 50 people a night sleeping in the shelter, in Woodbury we had 50, at Pomeraug we had 48 more,"said Neil Lustig, M.P.H., Director of Health for Oxford, Southbury and Middlebury. "And those were just the people who slept there. During the day, showering was well in excess at 400 people a day."
Lustig said that as bad as the storm was, the effects could have been much worse.
"All of the towns held their own, but had it been even just slightly worse, resources could have been even more stressed," he said. "If the condos in Heritage Village had lost power, that could have been 2900 people who needed help. The statistics said 40-50 percent had no power, but if the Heritage Village condos, the largest over 55 community in state, had no power, the system would have been overwhelmed."
Noting that the Heritage Village has a substantial number of elderly residents who may have weakened immune systems, Lustig said, “The elderly have more difficulty dealing with no food and cold. It would have been a major issue, and it's serious concern. They are all using electric heat. From a government perspective, we will be working with all three towns to plan emergency policies.”
There has been concern among some residents that the entire electrical system of the state has been compromised by having to be repaired in such a hurry, but Theresa Gilbert, spokesperson CL&P, said the electic wire system is not any more vulnerable now than it was before the storm.
"We have to comply with same safety rules whenever we put the wires back up," Gilbert said in a phone interview. "We patrolled 17,000 miles of overhead lines to see if all of the wires have been repaired."
"This was the largest contingent of tree crews ever, much more than for the hurricane. We had 2,659 tree crews out after this storm. The tree damage was unbelievable. Trees are what make Connecticut so beautiful, but they are what made the storm so dangerous," Gilbert warned.
CL&P suggests checking for overhanging trees and clearing them before the next storm. Gilbert recommended that when the power goes out, customers stay current with the latest information from CL&P via Twitter and Facebook.
"We were constantly issuing important safety messages," she said. "Stay away from downed wires, even if they look fine, and even if they look as if they have been down for a long time. And make sure that your ovens are turned off, especially if you may not be home when the power comes back on."
Gilbert also cautioned that anything, such as trees or fences, that is in close proximity to a downed wire should be assumed to be live and dangerous.
"We have crews out checking thousands of miles of wiring, but if you happen to see a wire down, please call CL&P," Gilbert said.
Some of the more basic survival tips came from Newtown residents, Shawn and Cheryl Arend who prepared for the storms by keeping plenty of unperishable food on hand. "We have enough prepared foods for a 90 days supply."
The Arends also suggest keeping wheat which can serve as different food sources according to the way it is prepared. "Grinding wheat flour serves as carbohydrates, sprouted wheat becomes your greens, and cooking wheat in a chili is your protein."
The last bit of advice from the Arends is to store water. With so many wells and private water suppliers coming perilously close to contamination, keeping several large bottles of water from a commercial water seller is one way not to have to fight the crowds at the grocery stores, should the next big storm arrive unannounced.