A punishing nor'easter knocked out power to 59,000 Long Islanders Wednesday, complicating the largest restoration effort in LIPA's history and delaying a massive South Shore grid evaluation effort.
Outages reached more than 193,000 last night and LIPA missed its goal of restoring power to 90 percent of customers whose homes were capable of receiving power by last night. The utility will no longer set a percentage goal, a utility official said.
Some 30,000 outages from superstorm Sandy were restored Wednesday, as the total number of outages -- and the new ones from the nor-easter -- fluctuated during the day.
Even as the utility battles the wreckage from Sandy and the mess caused by the nor'easter, the authority is attempting to get its arms around a massive electrical system evaluation effort of some 40,000 homes South of Montauk Highway, Merrick Road and Atlantic Avenue, from Moriches in Suffolk to the Rockaways in Nassau.
Those homes were in flood zones overwhelmed by Sandy and received heavy damage to structures. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse agencies for those evaluations, which must be done before power is turned back on.
Wednesday, thousands of customers lit up LIPA phone lines, as well as those of county, town and village offices, seeking information on a LIPA system aimed at safely restoring power to flood-prone and heavily damaged areas.
LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey said the authority will take on administration of the evaluation program in Nassau County. The utility will work with an electrical contracting agency and bolster its force with hundreds of additional workers, starting Thursday. Hervey said up to 1,000 people could be on the job this week, and LIPA will pay the costs of the evaluators in Nassau. Suffolk County is coordinating the evaluation effort itself.
Meanwhile, residents in those South Shore communities, some with no damage and no power, sought help from any possible resource to get their power turned on. "I have called the town, LIPA, the village of Massapequa Park, electrical inspectors' numbers, and have not received any answers," said Heather Tufano, of Massapequa, south of Merrick Road, echoing the frustration of thousands of LIPA customers. She said she feared it would be weeks before she received power.
Jan Hickman, of Lindenhurst, noted the problem of returning electrical service to areas flooded by Sandy is more complex than people think. She has been told by the village that her natural gas system also needs inspection, on top of the electrical. The Village of Lindenhurst website tells of scheduled inspections, but LIPA says homeowners should wait in their homes for crews of evaluators to come. No scheduling system has been set up, however.
"This whole procedure of inspectors has been an absolute disgrace," said state Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick). He said the communications problem between customers and the utility has grown so acute that he has set up a telephone call center in his office.
Hervey said the process of getting homes evaluated will be done quickly and "in an orderly manner."
For the broader, islandwide restoration effort related to Sandy, LIPA has 12,000 crews on the ground, including new workers and trucks airlifted from California Wednesday. Hervey acknowledged that the large workforce has created bottlenecks that have left some crews idle and waiting for instructions.
"The ability to manage this large a workforce and all the ways they work is a huge management effort," he said. Managers are "feeding work to these crews fairly fast but sometimes it does bottleneck. It's one of the challenges we have. It's believable that it's happening."