New Yorkers railed against a utility company that has lagged behind others in restoring power two weeks after superstorm Sandy socked the region, criticizing its slow pace as well as a dearth of information.
About 120,000 customers in New York and New Jersey remained without power on Sunday, including tens of thousands of homes and businesses that were too damaged to reconnect even if power was running in their neighborhood. More than 8 million lost power during the storm and some during a later nor’easter storm.
Separately, US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano visited with disaster-relief workers on Sunday in the borough of Staten Island’s Midland Beach neighborhood, which is still devastated two weeks after Sandy hit.
The lack of power restoration for a relative few in the densely populated region at the heart of the storm reinforced Sandy’s fractured effect on the area: tragic and vicious to some, merely a nuisance to others.
Perhaps none of the utility companies have drawn criticism as widespread, nor as harsh, as the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). Nearly 50,000 of the homes and businesses it serves were still without power on Sunday evening; 55,000 more could not safely connect even though their local grids were back online because their wiring and other equipment had been flooded and would need to be repaired or inspected before those homes could regain power, LIPA said.
“We certainly understand the frustration that’s out there,” LIPA’s chief operating officer, Michael Hervey, said in a conference call late on Sunday.
However, he said that the storm had been worse than expected, no utility had as many workers in place beforehand as it would have liked and that power was coming back “rapidly compared to the damage that’s been incurred.”
Customers told of calling LIPA multiple times a day for updates and getting no answer, or contradictory advice.
“I was so disgusted the other night,” said Carrie Baram of Baldwin Harbor, on Long Island, who said she calls the company three times a day.
“I was up till midnight, but nobody bothered to answer the telephone,” she said.
Baram, 56, said she and her husband Bob go to the mall to charge their cellphones as Bob, a sales manager, goes there to work. They trek to her parents’ house to shower. At night, they huddle under a pile of blankets and listen to the sound of fire engines, which Baram assumes are being called out because people have been accidentally starting blazes with their generators.
“It’s dark,” an exasperated Baram said, “it’s frightening, and it’s freezing.”
LIPA has said it knows that customers are not getting the information they need, partly because of an outdated information technology system that it is being updated. On Sunday, executives said they were working on setting up information centers near the most heavily damaged areas. The company also said it had deployed 6,400 linemen to work on restoring power, compared to 200 on a normal day.
“’They’re working on it, they’re working on it’ — that would be their common response,” Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said on Sunday, describing LIPA’s interaction with his office.
Mangano and other lawmakers have called for the federal government to step in and assist with restoring power to Long Island, saying LIPA could not be trusted to get the job done.
On Sunday, LIPA said it had restored power to 95 percent of homes and businesses where it was safe to receive power and that that figure would be 99 percent by the end of today. It did not give an estimate for the remaining customers.
In New York City, the mayor’s office said about 6,000 residents in low-income housing were still without power in 30 buildings. Police raised the city’s death toll from the storm to 43, after the death of a 77-year-old retired custodian who apparently fell down the stairs of his apartment building in the Rockaways, when it was dark and without power. Family members found him on Oct. 31 and he died in hospital on Saturday.