LIPA crews Thursday will finally make it to neighborhoods and businesses darkened by Sandy, the utility's chief said, and they'll be bolstered by 1,900 workers recruited by the state.
Electric workers are wrapping up their work on the Long Island Rail Road, hospitals and nursing homes Thursday, and then will shift their focus to neighborhoods.
The 1,900 new workers come in addition to the 1,268 the Long Island Power Authority already has assigned to the restoration.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Wednesday announced the army of workers would come from upstate, across the country and the New York Power Authority to help LIPA. "Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island and the New York metro area particularly hard, and we must direct our resources to where they are needed the most and can help the most people," Cuomo said.
The workers will go to the Nassau Coliseum and three other regional outposts on Long Island -- Brookhaven Airport, East Hampton Airport and Suffolk County Community College. From there, they'll be assigned to neighborhoods to begin restoring power to hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders.
More than 790,000 of LIPA's 1.1 million customers remained without power after midnight Wednesday, the utility's website showed. At its height, Sandy left 945,000 in the dark, and LIPA has said it expected restoration to take at least 10 days, and likely more.
LIPA's chief operating officer, Michael Hervey, said that Thursday "will be the big day when most of the crews are on actual distribution restoration." The work is urgent because customers without power face dropping temperatures. "We're restoring as fast as we can, but we know it's an issue," he said of the cold.
Despite the state Public Service Commission's lack of jurisdiction over LIPA, Cuomo on Sunday delegated the agency's chairman, Garry Brown, to monitor the utility's restoration and communications efforts during and after the storm. Brown spokesman James Denn said Wednesday that the PSC's "goal" was to "ensure power is restored on Long Island as quickly as possible."
Hervey said the presence of the PSC chairman has been a help. Brown has a "monitoring function, but having another utility pro here is helpful," he said. "He's actually been sitting in at all meetings, making recommendations. He's also overseeing the rest of the utilities in the state," which, unlike LIPA, fall under his agency's jurisdiction.
Cuomo last night reiterated that he would hold LIPA and other utilities in the region accountable for their response to the storm.
More than half of LIPA's damaged substations have been repaired, LIPA said. Substations, the regional centers of electric distribution to homes and businesses, take the high-voltage electricity from power plants and scale it down for distribution to customers. Of LIPA's 185 substations, 44 were damaged. LIPA Wednesday said just 15 await repairs.
Meanwhile, LIPA is beginning to make hard decisions about areas so badly damaged it may not be able to restore power until officials declare the areas safe.
Structural damage and lingering floodwaters in areas impacted by Sandy could mean that LIPA removes them from its immediate storm to-do list until public-safety officials say the areas are safe for power to be restored, Hervey said.
Although he declined to specify which areas could be impacted, he said turning on power to blocks of houses or buildings with flooded basements or those with damaged interior wiring could pose a hazard to people working in them. LIPA, at local officials' direction, will take them off its Sandy repair list until the conditions are resolved.
The decision appeared to be aimed at devastated areas of Lindenhurst and Breezy Point, where floodwaters and fires destroyed scores of homes.
While those areas are hard hit, work on the rest of the system could be smoother, Hervey said.
He said his assessment of damaged locations Wednesday showed "in most cases, it's not complicated damage."
Some questions have been raised about the accuracy of LIPA's outage numbers. Several villages and towns are listed on LIPA's site with thousands more outages than actual customers. For example, LIPA lists more than 42,000 customers on the Rockaway peninsula, yet it serves only 33,671 customers there.
LIPA has said the problem is a computer system that automatically divides up outages in an area among villages or hamlets served by a substation, regardless of whether those villages are showing an outage. LIPA said the glitch doesn't add more outages, but incorrectly shows where they are.
"Those are the best numbers we have," Hervey said.
Catherine Torell, of Huntington, whose power has been out since Monday, said her patience is wearing as she fails to see LIPA trucks in her area, or sees maintenance workers idling.
"We have massive trees down literally right in the middle of the road and no one's doing anything," she said. "I saw one LIPA truck outside [Huntington] Town Hall yesterday [Tuesday]. We have wires just laying in the road."
LIPA, two days after Sandy
Why is LIPA giving priority to hospitals and nursing homes instead of me?
Even though many of these facilities have generators, they rely on LIPA to power life-support systems and other key equipment, which generators don't always do dependably.
How soon will LIPA trucks show up in neighborhoods?
It could be "more than a few days" before crews finish repairs to the backbone transmission system and critical customers and begin full-scale efforts in neighborhoods, an official said.
Why is LIPA having so much trouble getting the more than 1,250 outside crews to come to Long Island to work?
Much of the East Coast's electrical grid, particularly from southern New Jersey to Massachusetts, has been damaged by the storm. Crews normally available to LIPA have been split among the region's utilities. In addition, crews from neighboring utilities that are normally released to work for LIPA have remained at home, focusing on their own problems.
So how long before all restorations are finished?
LIPA originally said seven to 10 days. But with 936,000 outages as of Tuesday evening, LIPA is now saying it could take even longer, perhaps two weeks or more.
-- MARK HARRINGTON