MONROE – When the school day began on Tuesday, May 15, it seemed like any other. The sun was shining, the humidity was building and weather forecasters were predicting afternoon showers with the possibility of severe thunderstorms.
A few hours later, the forecasts became more threatening. Schools responded by canceling softball games, field trips and other extracurricular events. At All-Star Transportation locations impacted by the oncoming storms, steps also were being taken in preparation for the weather.
“By noon that Tuesday, we were in constant contact with the superintendent’s office, making sure all after school activities were cancelled, that all students could be delivered home and that we could get drivers out and on their way home before the storm hit,” said Alan Colangelo, manager of All-Star’s Newtown location.
Cancelling events and getting buses off the road turned out to be a wise decision as tornadoes rolled through several communities, cutting electrical service and closing roads for days. Fortunately, only a few buses were still on the road when the storms hit.
“There were two buses (one coming from New Haven and the other from Trumbull) that were forced to fight an uphill battle trying to find open roads to deliver the students safely to the high school,” Colangelo said. “What normally would have been a 5:20 p.m. drop-off ended up being a 7:10 p.m. drop-off. Many thanks to these two drivers who kept their calm and were able to fight their way through the carnage.”
In Seymour, the terminal office lost radio contact with its drivers on the Seymour channel and cell phone service was spotty at best.
“We had two buses out. One bus with kids, and one bus without kids,” said Steve Gardner, the manager in Seymour. “The bus without kids got stuck on Skokorat Street in Seymour. The storm hit and a live wire ended up on the roof of her (the driver’s) bus. She was stuck for a little over four hours before she could move. Another driver sat with her to make sure she was OK. The other bus with kids got stuck on Great Hill Road temporarily but made it to the remaining schools in Oxford and Beacon Falls. We had no damaged buses.”
Hardest hit among All-Star’s service areas were Brookfield, Beacon Falls, Newtown, Oxford and Seymour. Schools in Oxford and Brookfield were closed for five days, with Brookfield restarting its runs only after some routes were temporarily modified. Newtown schools also were closed for four days, while Seymour schools closed for three and Derby one. None of All-Star’s terminals sustained any damage.
As for drivers, monitors, mechanics and their families, most reported riding out the storm safely with little or no damage to their homes.
“A few who live out of town ended up having to find a safe spot to pull over and wait it out as the storm hit just before 5 p.m. while they were trying to head home. A number of drivers who live in town reported they had just pulled into their streets or driveways as trees and limbs started crashing down around them. Only two reported minor damage to their homes,” Colangelo said.
Gardner said he was driving when a tornado touched down on the Southbury/Oxford line.
“It was the scariest two minutes watching debris fly over my car, watching trees sway horizontally and eventually not being able to see out of the car at all. I kept looking up at the trees praying that they wouldn’t fall on my car. I eventually lowered my head down as low as I could in case one did land on my roof. When I was able to see, the car in front of me had a tree on its roof. The driver was OK but the car’s roof was flattened. It took me 2½ hours to make it home that night. I had to detour through Middlebury to get on the highway and eventually through Southbury and Newtown. The damage was unreal.”
After the experience, Gardner said he haS a new respect for weather reports.
“I think there should have been more closings for after school activities. I think a lot of people, including myself, took this too lightly. “