LIPA: 95 percent of customers restored

A sign to LIPA in Massapequa's Biltmore Shores A sign to LIPA in Massapequa's Biltmore Shores neighborhood. (Nov. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Emily Ngo

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Roughly 100,000 LIPA customers were still without power Sunday afternoon, including 50,000 who were in non-flooded areas, according to LIPA and National Grid officials. Another 54,000 customers with storm-damaged electrical systems could yet receive power, the officials said.

As of Sunday afternoon, power had been restored to 95 percent of those who "can safely" receive electricity and that number should rise 99 percent by the end of Tuesday, said Michael Hervey, LIPA Chief and John Bruckner, president of Long Island Transmission Distribution for National Grid.

In a press conference at LIPA headquarters in Hicksville Sunday afternoon, Hervey said the process of certifying an electrical system as safe, before power is restored, had been streamlined. Now homeowners can have an electrician certify the system instead of waiting for a utility assessor to come, he said. Damage done by Sandy included severe flooding in many areas, in which salt water corroded equipment needed to conduct power.

Hervey said assessors inspecting equipment have left stickers with contact numbers at houses where no one was home but there had been a "very high hit rate." He said it was not always necessary to enter the home or speak with the homeowner for power to be restored if there was modest damage or no flooding.

Bruckner said Nassau's number of customers still out was much higher because of the density and maturity of trees there, combined with the hilly terrain, so that the two storms had toppled many more of them on power lines. He said many properties also had damage in the rear yards amid trees and debris that had to be cleared first.

Outages, he said, will continue to spring up as more tree limbs fall due to weather and other factors, Bruckner said.

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Asked what lesson the utility might take from the power emergency left by Sandy, Hervey said that while all the utilities in the northeast had requested extra repair staff before the storm, it was still not enough. "All of us went in with less linemen and tree trimmers" than what they needed, and "as an industry we need to sit back and re-evaluate that process."

There are 15,000 people working on power restoration, Bruckner said, including 6,400 linemen.

Hervey said almost all schools that had lost power have had it restored and the LIRR has been fully powered for the morning rush.

But the pace of restoration and communications from the utility have been the subject of outrage from customers and politicians alike.

Mounting public frustration over LIPA's response has led to protest rallies, such as one that sprang up Saturday morning outside the utility's Hicksville headquarters, and rallies Saturday afternoon called by Hempstead's town supervisor and a councilman, and one in Massapequa at Marjorie Post Community Park. And another protest was held in Baldwin Harbor Sunday.

"We certainly understand the frustration that is out there," Hervey said, saying LIPA had anticipated a 7-to-10-day waiting time once power was lost. But he called Sandy an "unprecedented storm" that was exacerbated by the recent nor'easter that "set us back two days."

"We have authorized every resource possible," he said. "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," Hervey said.

Asked about Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's recent statement that he was bypassing LIPA management to get power back on, Bruckner said: My understanding is his interest in being there is to obtain information first-hand as to the status of restoration. But I assure you the operation of the system continues to be under the direction of National Grid."

With Jennifer Barrios

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