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Days without power drag on in Sandy aftermath

By Christina Rexrode and Verena Dobnik

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 11 2012 10:14 p.m. MST

Organized by Occupy Sandy volunteers, medical supplies are readied on a table in the school gymnasium at the St. Camillus Roman Catholic Church in the Rockaway Park neighborhood of the borough of Queens, New York, Sunday, Nov.11, 2012, almost two weeks in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Associated Press

NEW YORK — New Yorkers railed Sunday against a utility that has lagged behind others in restoring power two weeks after the superstorm that 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 Sunday, including tens of thousands of homes and businesses that were too damaged to connect to power even if it was running in their neighborhood. More than 8 million lost power during the storm, and some during a later nor'easter.

Separately, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano visited with disaster-relief workers Sunday in 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 utilities have drawn criticism as widespread, or as harsh, as the Long Island Power Authority. Nearly 50,000 of the homes and businesses it serves were still without power Sunday evening, and 55,000 more couldn't safely connect even though their local grids were back online because their wiring and other equipment had been flooded. It 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 Sunday. But, he said, the storm had been worse than expected, no utility had as many workers in place beforehand as it would have liked, and the 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, who said she calls the utility three times a day. "I was up till midnight, but nobody bothered to answer the telephone."

Baram, 56, said she and her husband, Bob, go to the mall to charge their cellphones, and Bob, a sales manager, goes there to work. They trekked 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 blaring because people have been accidentally setting blazes with their generators.

"It's dark," said an exasperated Baram, "it's frightening, and it's freezing."

LIPA has said it knows that customers aren't getting the information they need, partly because of an outdated information technology system that it is updating. 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 Sunday, describing LIPA's interaction with his office.

He said LIPA had failed to answer even simple questions from its customers and that Sandy's magnitude wasn't an excuse.

"How could a utility of that size, with the financial support that it receives, fail to communicate with its residents?" he said. "Its basic logistics seem to have failed."

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 Tuesday.

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