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Almost 2 million storm victims still without electricity

Published November 4, 2012 12:10 pm
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Utility crews working around the clock restored power to another 575,000 homes and businesses overnight, with New Jersey making up half of the 1.9 million still without electricity.

By the sixth day after Hurricane Sandy struck, power companies had brought back the lights to 77 percent of the 8.5 million customers who lost it in the storm's destructive path. State officials voiced approval of the work accomplished, which included restoring power to most of Manhattan, while renewing warnings that utilities' response to the crisis is being closely watched by regulators and lawmakers.

"I want to make sure from a consumer's point of view the power is back up as quickly as possible and that these companies are doing all that they can do," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said yesterday. "These are utilities that are regulated by the state, and consumers have the right to hold them accountable."

Recovery progressed slowly in New Jersey, where Sandy came ashore near Atlantic City at 8 p.m. Oct. 29. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, praised the "patience and resilience" of New Jerseyans and released a timeline yesterday of which neighborhoods should be restored over the next few days. He pledged to hold utilities to the schedule.

Growing Frustration

"While progress has been made in restoring power to many businesses, households, and critical infrastructure in the aftermath of Sandy, there are still over 1.25 million customers without power," Christie said in a statement yesterday. By today, New Jersey's power losses dropped below 1 million, to 968,613, according to the Energy Department.

Frustration grew among consumers, many also without water, heat or phone service, as power companies advised that some areas may not get electricity back for another two weeks. A cold front is forecast to bring rain and possibly snow to the Northeast this week.

As of yesterday, 25 percent of homes and businesses in New Jersey, 9 percent of those in New York and 5 percent in Connecticut and West Virginia remained without electricity.

Barry Nydick, 74, and his wife, Marji, have been without electricity since the first day of the storm when a tree fell down and severed the wires running into their Livingston, New Jersey, home.

No Bets

"I wouldn't place a dollar bet on when I'm getting my power back," Nydick said. Nydick and his wife have taken refuge with friends in Rockaway, New Jersey, until their power is restored. He worries about some of his neighbors who had no choice but to remain at home in the dark.

"It's getting cold here and if it takes another week to get the power back, that's a lot of suffering." Nydick said.

Utilities are taking longer to assess damage and make repairs because the extent of damage from Sandy far exceeds the destruction caused by last year's Hurricane Irene, said Brian Wolff, a senior vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, a Washington-based group representing publicly traded power companies. Restoration efforts are complicated by the widespread flooding damage caused as Sandy swamped parts of Manhattan and New Jersey with corrosive saltwater.

Sandy, one of the costliest storms in U.S. history, wrought the greatest devastation ever faced by the region's power industry, Wolff said. Electricity had been restored to 4.6 million customers as of Nov. 2, or about 57 percent of those blacked out, compared with 74 percent at the same stage of cleanup for Irene, which also hit the East Coast, according to data from the U.S. Energy Department analyzed by Bloomberg.

Revoking Licenses

New York Governor Cuomo wrote a letter to the state's seven utilities last week warning he'd revoke their operating certificates if their restoration efforts fall short.

"Let's see what the performance is and then we'll have judgment," he said yesterday. "I'm very happy we've done so well in Manhattan. I'm also worried about Queens, and I'm also worried about Brooklyn and I'm also worried about the Bronx and Staten Island and Long Island and Rockland and Westchester."

Consolidated Edison Inc., owner of New York City's utility, restored power to the majority of buildings in Lower Manhattan yesterday after it was inundated by a record 14-foot tide from the storm. The utility said Manhattan's networks remain "in a precarious situation."

Con Edison has restored service to more than 75 percent of its customers who lost power in the storm. About 210,000 of its customers in New York City and Westchester County remained without service today, it said.

Westchester County

Getting power back to all customers in Westchester, where blocked roads hamper repairs, may take until Nov. 10, Con Edison said. The company's suburban Orange & Rockland unit, as well as utilities in New Jersey and Connecticut, issued similar forecasts.

"From what we've seen, Con Ed is doing as much work as they possibly can safely," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, said at a Nov. 2 press conference. "They didn't expect, and I don't think anyone else did either, a surge this high."

Bloomberg's patience did not extend to the Rockaways portion of Queens, where fire destroyed 111 homes in Breezy Point at the height of the storm. Unlike most of New York City, which gets its power from Con Edison, the Rockaway peninsula is served by the Long Island Power Authority.

LIPA's assessment that it may take two weeks to restore power to the Rockaways is "unacceptable," Bloomberg said.

New Jersey

Flooding forced Con Edison to pre-emptively cut power to large swaths of New York for the first time in its history, ripped out chunks of Atlantic City's famed boardwalk and submerged coastal communities in New Jersey.

FirstEnergy Corp.'s Jersey Central Power & Light, which served many of the shoreline communities battered by the storm, said Nov. 2 that the majority of the utility's 1.1 million customers would have power back by Nov. 7. Those in hardest-hit areas would have to wait as long as 14 days for electricity, while the rest would regain service "once damaged roads, infrastructure and homes are rebuilt."

Jersey Central reported 464,769 of the more than 1 million customers who lost power are still without it as of 11:11 a.m. local time today. Public Service, which also serves New Jersey, had 493,000 customers still without power as of a 10 a.m. statement today. The utility said "virtually all" of those who had lost power would be back online within the next week to 10 days.

Northeast Utilities, owner of Connecticut Light & Power, estimates most of its customers will have electricity back by Nov. 6, said Frank Poirot, a spokesman for the company. UIL Holdings Corp.'s United Illuminating will restore electricity to 95 percent of its customers by the end of tomorrow, according to a statement.






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