New storm, LIPA outages, gas lines frustrate LIers

National Grid workers assess roads that remain completely National Grid workers assess roads that remain completely blocked in Lattingtown so LIPA will be able to access power lines in the area. (Nov. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

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Frustration intensified Monday as long gas lines remained the new normal, outraged customers protested the Long Island Power Authority's handling of outages, and a nor'easter expected to make landfall by midweek threatened to slow repair work.

The storm could bring sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph and gusts of up to 60 mph with 1 to 2 inches of rain to an already battered landscape. It's expected to hit Long Island tomorrow into Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said late Monday that local officials have been directed to clear debris left by Sandy that homeowners have piled outside their properties before the nor'easter arrives.

"We believe this is a public health emergency," Cuomo said. "We don't want the amount of debris that is now in the streets and in the yards to get caught up in the storm."

As the approaching storm threatened to complicate an already lurching recovery from Sandy -- and further degrade vulnerable coastal areas that were ravaged by the hurricane -- the immediate concern of many remained the region's scarce gas supply.

Executives at the region's primary distribution terminal said that gas-bearing barges were arriving daily from New York Harbor, but that a return to normal was not imminent.

Cuomo said steps were being taken to hasten deliveries, but he did not know when the gas shortage would end. "No one can give us a good estimate," he said.

As they have for days, tempers at long gas lines wore thin. A Stony Brook teenager pulled a knife on an attendant at a station in East Setauket, angry that high-octane fuel was unavailable, police said. The 17-year-old was charged with menacing and possession of a weapon.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said his office had gotten hundreds of complaints from consumers on Long Island and in New York City and the Hudson Valley about price gouging for gas, generators, food, water and hotel rooms.

Schneiderman said investigations were under way. "Our office is taking every complaint seriously," he said.

LIPA continued to come under withering criticism, even as the utility appeared to near a critical milestone of reducing outages to less than 200,000 from a high of more than 900,000. In Hewlett, some 25 ratepayers marched on a customer service center, blasting the utility for what they see as its multiple failures, and demanding to know when their power would be restored.

LIPA has 10,000 workers in the field, and expects to have power returned to around 90 percent of customers by Wednesday night.

As he did last week, Cuomo expressed anger at utilities.

"The progress is unacceptable," he said. "I think that the utility companies have not performed adequately. The utilities are paid to provide service. They should have been prepared."

Long Island hospitals said they were seeing a high number of patients who have had difficulty obtaining medications and visiting their regular doctors since Sandy struck. There were also reports of more elderly people struggling with the colder temperatures.

Dr. John D'Angelo, senior vice president for emergency services at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, said the system's 16 hospitals have seen a similar increase in patients not able to get refills on medications or who are running out of supplemental oxygen. He said the system had seen a "persistent increase in volume of approximately 30 percent over normal volumes since the storm."

Police said crimes of opportunity have been seen. There were reports of generator, aluminum and copper thefts, as well as gas being siphoned from vehicles. One camping store in Huntington Station was burglarized the day after the storm. The burglars made off with eight rifles, police said.

In New York City, Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano visited the Staten Island Ferry terminal and urged New Yorkers in need to register with FEMA to qualify for cash reimbursements, home repair loans and rental assistance.

Napolitano said federal, state and local officials are discussing the use of trailers and manufactured homes for families who need shelter. Having families relocate to public housing developments "close to their communities" is also under consideration, she said.

FEMA spokesman Bill Rukeyser said a total of 28,790 families in Nassau County have applied for assistance, and another 10,026 in Suffolk County.

So far in the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester County, Rockland County and Long Island, 102,376 people have registered for FEMA assistance, Rukeyser said, and a total of $127,725,032 in aid has been distributed.

At a news conference Monday, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano announced the creation of a county Economic Recovery Task Force, which he said will help streamline government processes needed to get businesses damaged by the storm up and running again.

Mangano said that a week after the storm, there still is no good estimate of how many homes are destroyed or uninhabitable. "That assessment is still on the way," he said, adding that he's heard numbers from 50,000 to 100,000. "I hesitate other than to say it will be a shocking number."

There were some signs of a return to normalcy Monday, even as the scale of the catastrophe was still being reckoned.

Long Island Rail Road commuters were back in large numbers. After transporting only a fraction of its usual ridership last week, the LIRR moved about 69,000 people Monday morning — about 77 percent of an average weekday load, said customer service vice president Joe Calderone.

School buses streamed to and from campuses across Long Island as more than half of districts were back in session, bringing some routine to families with frayed nerves. The City of Long Beach got sewer service back and officials said they were trying to get drinking water flowing, too.

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