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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Beach area residents weigh the evacuation question as Hurricane Irene nears.

“I’m not happy about being told to leave,” said Jeff Seymour, standing on the porch of his Beach Area home at 91 Quincy Street, referring to a Fairfield Police mandate that he evacuate his residence and move to higher ground.

He was among 500 or so homeowners in the Beach area that had either been ordered to leave or encouraged to leave in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Irene, a Category 1 marauder tearing a path along the coast of North Carolina and sprinting north. It was a question many were struggling with — retreat to safety or take one’s chances and stick it out at the old homestead, there to monitor, mend and react to the storm’s assault.

“I want to keep an eye on things,” said Seymour, recalling earlier battles with like storms. “I think it was ’92 when we had the last bad storm, which brought a lot of water. We weathered that and were fine. I expect water will come up . Maybe it will go in the basement. I learned a long time ago not to put valuables in the basement. Back in ’92, I had to wade through water from town, but the house was fine. This time, we’re going to my brother’s house in Stratfield.”

Seymour’s next door neighbor, John Guor, a landscaper with New England Nurseries, said he was planning to evacuate, too, by 4 p.m., headed over to his other house on School Street. “Right now I’m cleaning all my chainsaws, chippers, stump grinders, cherry pickers – all that. I expect to be very busy.”

Before setting into what promises to be a long slog of work and endless hours of tree, branch and other debris removal, Guor had plans to blow off some steam. “At 5 tonight, I’ll be at a hurricane party in Trumbull, with about 50 friends. We’ll have a disco ball and karaoke machine… the works!”

Over at 259 Edward Street, that thoroughfare being the official line which marked the mandatory evacs from the recommended evacs, homeowner Mini Zacchia had decided to stick around, joined by her elementary school aged daughters Brittany and Ashley. “I expect water damage and have prepared for it as best as possible,” she said. “I’m expecting power to be out, too. We have a generator as back-up. My biggest concern is if the seawall breaks and we have a continuous flow of water through the back of the property into the house.”

Dining on McDonald’s hamburgers under the shelter of the back hatch door of their SUV, idling in the parking lot at Penfield Beach, was Paul Mason and his daughter, Izzy, 4. “I took care of everything at home (Merwin’s Lane in Greenfield Hill), got us some lunch and are burning off some energy in case we get stuck for a couple days,” he shared.

Around the other side of the Pavilion, on its front deck actually, Ellen Leaf Schaper of Eastlawn and Susan Holzner of Fairview Avenue, and their children Alexandra and Livia, respectively, sat in beach chairs looking out at the ocean. Behind them, the windows and doors of the newly constructed building were boarded up with plywood.

“I’m in a mandatory evacuation zone,” said Schaper, with regard to her residence, “but I haven’t left yet. I’m monitoring the weather, right on the oceanfront.”

Walking right along the water’s edge was Eileen Grant, her daughter Abby and Abby’s friend Margaret Telling. Eileen held a large umbrella over them, to fend off sporadic raindrops. “We’re just taking a beach stroll, after having just purchased a generator from Home Depot,” she said. Eileen added that she and her daughter had decided to stay in their home – despite the tempting offer of rosemary chicken at the Telling’s Walbin Court (by Riverfield School) home.

Down Penfield Beach walking west, Dave Nadolny was rolling up a portable pool at the back of a Fairfield Beach home belonging to the Bernstein family. Said the senior Bernstein, “We have a reservation at the Trumbull Marriott. We’re going to be on vacation. We’ll hit the gym, pool and go out to dinner.”

A real standout on the beach, Tim Scanlon, from Sarasota, Florida, in the beach area visiting a friend, was flying a Best Waroo 15 meter kiteboarding kite. “I’m a kiteboarder hoping the wind will cooperate more than it has,” he said. “I’m essentially testing the wind currents before boarding.”

Making their way along the sand in the opposite direction was Lisa Moore and Perry Kourembanas. Each clutched a bottle of wine in their hands. “We just came from ‘That’s the Spirit’ and are headed home to pack up and go to higher ground,” said Kourembanas.

Shovels in hand by the kayak racks at Penfield, staff Walt Matis and Michael Jehle were loading sand into trashbags to form what Jehle referred to as ‘ghetto sandbags’, aiming to place them around the bottom of the doors of the museum facility, to try and prevent water flowing in. “Our mission is to protect the town’s history,” said Jehle.

Bopping along from the direction of the swings at Penfield were Lily Smith, 14, and Sydney Andrews, 13. “We wanted to see if it was ‘wavy’,” said Sydney, coining a new storm-related phrase. “It’s not as bad as we thought,” she concluded.

A few blocks away, just on the cusp of the Beach Area, at 953 Post Road, was doing brisk business purveying spirits to the masses. Emerging from the store with a 12-pack of Shock Top beer in hand, Krystal Marin, an employee of Sweet Rexie’s in downtown, said she was headed to a friend’s place in New Haven. “I live in West Haven, on the beach. New Haven is a little safer,” she said.

Running the show inside, “Red” Hutchinson said store traffic had been “way up” since Thursday. “Dark and Stormies and ice have been really popular. A lot of people are evacuating from the beach but picking up supplies as they leave.”

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