LIPA estimate: 100,000 LI-area homes, businesses devastated
About 100,000 homes and businesses on Long Island and the Rockaway peninsula were destroyed or severely damaged by superstorm Sandy, the Long Island Power Authority said in its first estimate of ruination from floods, winds and fire.
Those customers may be removed from LIPA's list for restoration, chief operating officer Michael Hervey said Thursday, because the structures either were demolished, badly flooded or seriously harmed.
"Some of those buildings don't exist" as a result of the storm, Hervey said. "Others will repair and come back."
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The sobering number came as the storm's death toll rose yet again on the Island and in New York City, and as some people were injured in its aftermath.
Suffolk police said a Bay Shore man, 80, died after he fell on his front steps during the height of the storm Monday night -- the sixth storm-related death on the Island. In the city, at least 38 people were confirmed dead.
In Central Islip, six people suffering from carbon monoxide exposure, from a basement generator, were rescued, and Nassau University Medical Center reported people injured while attempting to clear damage.
Still, there were signs of progress as the pace of recuperation picked up. In addition to the efforts of state, county and municipal agencies, the National Guard and the American Red Cross, aid poured in from other states and a host of federal agencies -- the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA opened assistance centers to give people advice and help them apply for aid. In a conference call Thursday night, President Barack Obama got updates from local New York officials, including Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who told the president that breaches on Fire Island, which protects the South Shore against erosion, now mean "hundreds of thousands of homes" are in danger.
The pulse of daily life also began to beat in more familiar rhythms.
For this morning's rush, the Long Island Rail Road is adding limited trains on two more lines -- Babylon and Huntington -- after resuming partial service on the Port Washington and Ronkonkoma branches Thursday. While there was aggravating gridlock in spots, commuters into Manhattan began to adapt to emergency carpool rules over East River bridges that require at least three people in a vehicle.
"It feels good," said Fernando Henriquez, of Port Washington, as he waited at the crowded Great Neck station for a Penn Station-bound train. "After all that happened, it feels good that we are back in business."
635,000 still without power
Much of the Island remained without power, though, with about 635,000 of LIPA's 1.1 million customers still in the dark as temperatures overnight dipped into the mid- to upper 30s. The forecast for cold evenings holds true through Wednesday night.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, at a news briefing, had stern words for the region's utilities. Invoking the state's regulatory power, he said, "This is going to be a test of their performance, and I want them to know that."
Long Island had the highest percentage of customers without power in the region -- 90 percent, he said. He threatened LIPA's management with their jobs, if necessary, to ensure the public utility "lives up to its public responsibility."
In several towns -- Hempstead, North Hempstead, Brookhaven and Islip -- officials reported significant strides in clearing roads of felled trees and debris.
The gas shortage persisted. Long lines snaked around gas stations, and some tempers grew short over scarce supplies and those who tried to cut in.
At a Hess station on Route 110 in Melville, a driver tried to cut a line of about 80 cars backed up for blocks. "I've been in line two hours!" another driver, William Hurley, 43, of Babylon, shouted at him. "Go to the back like everyone else!" The two argued until a Hess attendant told the newcomer to go to the rear of the line.
The shortage could continue into next week, some analysts said. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Port of New York was opened Thursday only for the shipping of fuel.
Hot meals were in high demand. Thursday morning in Seaford, dozens of adults and children showed up as much as a half-hour early at an American Red Cross mobile station. Most were displaced and living with friends or were without power for ovens and stovetops.
Volunteers from as far away as Michigan and North Carolina dished out piping-hot roast beef, rice, chicken nuggets, broccoli and shrimp. Many said the camaraderie and kindness meant even more after four days of living in their darkened, waterlogged homes.
"I think I've had three meals in the last four days," said Jackie Katzman, 43, of Seaford, whose home was destroyed by floodwaters. "It has been an exhausting and depressing week. I'm so lucky to have friends. I can't sit around and cry about it all day."
Looking to recharge
With electricity still spotty or nonexistent, residents flocked to stores, coffee shops or government offices that were offering free charges for their cellphones and computers. More than 60 residents descended on a Waldbaum's in Long Beach to charge their electronic devices.
Jose Garcia, 22 a dishwasher in a local restaurant who rents a room in Long Beach, was trying to charge his cellphone to call his family in Mexico.
"I'm worried that my mom and dad will think I was washed away by the ocean," he said. "I want them to know I'm OK, but my phone battery died, so that's why I'm here, trying to recharge it."
As the region struggled to rebound, local hospitals reported being close to full or beyond their capacity, as they accommodated patients transferred from other facilities or people unable to see their own doctors.
"I'm concerned that we're reaching the point we will not have adequate staff or beds to care for the dramatically increased volume of patients," said Nassau University Medical Center chief executive Arthur Gianelli.
The North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, with its 5,500 beds at 16 hospitals and 17 long-term-care facilities, said it had only 50 to 75 beds available systemwide.
Meanwhile, because the storm seriously damaged three Nassau County sewage treatment plants, effluent poured into dozens of homes from Lawrence to East Rockaway, forcing already-exhausted residents to find new places to live.
Nassau officials said operations had been partially restored at East Rockaway's Bay Park Sewage Treatment plant. The plant, which serves 550,000 Nassau residents, went offline Tuesday after more than 9 feet of seawater breached the facility's basement and subbasement.
In Long Beach, the city was working to restart both its water and sewer systems, both damaged in the storm. Officials said they hoped to have the water system running again in three to four days, once it is pressurized.
At a local Rite Aid, more than a dozen people lined up in the parking lot to get free, clean water. With many neighborhoods without power, Nassau police warned people against looting.
In Babylon, Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew for neighborhoods south of Montauk Highway, including Lindenhurst and Babylon Village.
"Crime suppression patrols" will be mounted by Suffolk police, state troopers and the National Guard in particularly vulnerable communities. The patrols will include plainclothed officers and unmarked cars, Suffolk police said.
At least 110 of Long Island's 124 school districts were to remain closed Friday -- the fifth straight day students have missed classes. Officials said it was an unprecedented shutdown due to weather.