About 50,000 Long Island Power Authority customers in Nassau County remained without electricity last night, lagging restoration efforts in Suffolk County two weeks after superstorm Sandy roared into the region.
The number in Nassau was down from about 60,000 on Saturday. In Suffolk, about 10,000 homes and businesses were still in the dark last night -- a drop from 25,000 the day before.
"We were hit three times as hard as Suffolk," Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said Sunday. "We have more infrastructure damage from the way the storm surge hit."
County chiefs frustrated
Mangano and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, frustrated by the pace of work by LIPA, have put municipal employees in utility substations to identify neighborhoods that could be repowered quickly.
LIPA Chief Operating Officer Michael Hervey said it would set up walk-in centers to provide power restoration information for residents in the hardest-hit areas. He did not have details about when and where the centers would open.
Hervey said 99 percent of customers without severe home damage would be repowered by Tuesday.
"We certainly understand the frustration that's out there," Hervey said. "We have authorized every resource possible. Power is coming back rapidly compared to the damage that was done. My appeal to those customers is once the crews arrive, stand back and let them get their work done."
"Given the extent of the damage and the zone that's being covered, that [restoring power] is something you can't just wave a magic wand on," she said during a news conference on Staten Island.
In other storm-related developments:
Gasoline lines had shortened under the even-odd rationing system imposed last Friday by Nassau and Suffolk counties. Some stations Sunday had no line at all.
Albert McSwain, 77, became New York City's 43rd storm-related death. He was found on Oct. 31 at the foot of the stairs of his dark and powerless Rockaway Beach apartment building and died Saturday, police said. Nine storm-related deaths have been reported on Long Island.
For most residents, power remained the most immediate issue. Frustration turned into a pervasive sense of being "forgotten," as demonstrated at a LIPA protest Sunday in Baldwin Harbor.
"I feel like we're completely abandoned," said Bill Galantai, 71, who was among about 50 residents at the protest.
Even those who had lights, heat and hot water told of frustrations.
David Ozer, 47, of Roslyn Heights, said he had to flag down an out-of-state lineman on Saturday to ask why his block didn't have power. He said he was shocked when the man said that his outage map indicated the block had been restored.
After double-checking, the lineman told Ozer it had been an oversight, and within four hours, Ozer's power was back, he said. But Sunday morning -- after the electricity was back -- a LIPA manager returned a previous call from Ozer to say, "I still don't have an update for your estimated restoration."
"If they don't even know when power is being restored somewhere, how can we believe any of their estimates," Ozer asked.
Mangano said LIPA had provided clearer directions for the residents in flood zones -- generally south of Merrick Road -- who still need electrical inspections. He said that LIPA had provided him, for the first time, with a fax number -- 631-844-3643 -- and email address -- firstname.lastname@example.org -- that residents can use to provide proof of inspection. LIPA also agreed to allow licensed electricians to reconnect meters themselves, with approval, but without a LIPA employee on site, he said.
"I can't say why it took two weeks for them to do it," Mangano said. "But it eliminates a confusing step in the process."
If Suffolk County had not stepped in, "everyone in affected storm areas would be way behind," Bellone said of his decision to bypass LIPA management and work at the substation level. "The difference is we actually know what's going on in real time, as opposed to the generalities you get from LIPA headquarters."
John Bruckner, president of National Grid's Long Island transmission distribution, gave several reasons why Nassau sustained more power losses than Suffolk, including the density and maturity of trees.
"The combination of the hurricane and blizzard really exacerbated the issues in Nassau County," Bruckner said.
National Grid in control
Bruckner said National Grid, the company that operates the system for LIPA, remains in control of the electrical system, but welcomes county input. He and Hervey said that Sandy will have them looking for many ways to improve operations and be better prepared.
"I think the one thing that struck us . . . was that this was such a massive storm for the whole East Coast that all the utilities were requesting essentially the same manpower," Hervey said. "And all the utilities went into the storm with less people on the ground than we wanted. I think that process, at the end of the day, is going to need to be revisited."
Some contractors from out of state said Sandy's wrath was worse than other devastating storms.
"We worked Hurricane Katrina and many other storms," said home-cleaning contractor Chris Teters of Tennessee. "But the population density of the people who are affected [by Sandy] is overwhelming."