LIPA customers demonstrate in Hewlett

Still without power a week after superstorm Sandy, residents of North Woodmere, Woodmere and Cedarhurst demonstrate at a customer service center in Hewlett. Videojournalist: T.C. McCarthy (Nov. 5 2012)

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Their frustration at a boiling point over the lack of power in their homes, about 25 residents of North Woodmere, Woodmere Park and Cedarhurst marched on a LIPA customer service center in Hewlett Monday morning, demanding to be heard.

A sign on the door of the large National Grid/LIPA complex on Mill Road read: "This office is temporarily closed."

That didn't deter Eric Feintuch, a chiropractor from North Woodmere, who banged on the door anyway after he saw a light and people walk by an area that could be seen through the front door. Beth Fliegel of North Woodmere joined him.

No one from inside the Long Island Power Authority office responded.

And that has been the problem in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, said Fliegel and Sharon Mor, also of North Woodmere, who organized the demonstration outside the LIPA offices. The group said they had not been able to get any information from LIPA on when power would be restored to their communities, other than prerecorded messages that they said did not specifically list their neighborhoods.

They can't plan, many said, on whether they need to leave the area for an extended time.

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"We want to speak to someone in [LIPA] administration," Mor said as she and the residents gathered in a shopping plaza on Peninsula Boulevard and Mill Road, across the street from LIPA's offices.

"We want information," added Fliegel.

LIPA issued a statement in response to the demonstration: "While we have restored over 719,000 customers in the past 6 days, we realize that there are still customers without service, and they are our sole focus. Our plan will have 90 percent of our customers back on by late Wednesday evening, including customers in the North Woodmere, Woodmere Park and Cedarhurst areas. We also are currently monitoring the weather forecast and are preparing for any additional damage that may occur later in the week."

The forecast LIPA is referring to is potential nor'easter Wednesday into Thursday.

LIPA's outage map, a critical link to many customers seeking information on their anticipated restoration time, has taken a skewering since the storm began. First it reported thousands more outages than some hamlets or villages had actual LIPA customers.

Late Sunday and Monday, customers began voicing new concerns about the reporting system, and another that alerts customers to how LIPA crews -- about 10,000 in all -- are fielding restoration requests and assigning work.

LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey on Sunday acknowledged a large backlog in uploading current information to the outage system. Crews are focused on work, he said, but LIPA is working harder to get the information current and accurate.

Mor said "our issues are with management, not with the workers. . . . There's just been a lack of effort and information to us." She added, "We want a solution. We want to be heard and I'm not going to sit back and do nothing.

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"When you call LIPA, we're not even listed," while information on other communities is provided, Mor said. "So we're nowhere."

And that was simply unacceptable, many in the group said. Some had children in tow whose schools remain closed. They said they were concerned about ill children and elderly parents who needed services powered by electricity.

Feintuch said his daughter needs a ventilator. He does have a generator and someone helps him get gasoline to power it. "I'm waiting in lines like everyone else when I can."

Fliegel said her 86-year-old grandmother, who also lives in North Woodmere, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. "There's nothing there. They need the power. We need LIPA to hear us."

Their homes are dark and temperatures are growing colder. They fear pipes will freeze and burst, making a bad situation worse.

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Debbie Carrillo of North Woodmere said warming centers that have been opened by officials are too far from their area, and "nobody wants to drive" because of the scarcity of gasoline.

Fliegel noted the damage and devastation suffered by other areas of the South Shore. "Listen, we understand that people have lost homes," she said. "We understand there are other areas that need attention, too. We're not minimizing what they're going through and our hearts go out to them."

Feintuch said the official response to Sandy's aftermath has been a "good dry run, that if we really had someone attack our country, this shows we have no chance. . . . Bottom line is there is no organization."

He urged residents to get involved in emergency planning. "Somebody's got to get involved where we have local communication about what we want done . . . otherwise we are dead in the water."

With Mark Harrington

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