Sandy's damage to LIPA may take 10 days to fix

In Westhampton, the high tide in Shinnecock Bay,

In Westhampton, the high tide in Shinnecock Bay, coupled with Sandy's powerful winds and rain, left homes in the area flooded. (Oct 30, 2012) (Credit: Doug Kuntz )

The Long Island Power Authority, faced with more outages than at any time in its history, said it expects full restoration of power to take at least 10 days and "very possibly more."

The utility has begun the long and complicated process of repairing a crippled electric system, starting with the backbone transmission system and hospitals, its top official said. It could be several days before repair crews make their way to impacted neighborhoods.

More than 914,000 of LIPA's 1.1 million customers were without power as of 8 p.m. Tuesday, far surpassing the 1985 record of 750,000 after Hurricane Gloria.


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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the state's Public Service Commission would oversee the recovery efforts of power providers, especially LIPA's because of its past performance.

"LIPA has had a very poor track record in just this area of restoring power, and we are going to ask the chairman of the PSC to specifically monitor LIPA to ensure the power is coming on," Cuomo said.

He said the state's worst power outages are on Long Island. "Long Island really took the brunt of the burden," the governor said.

Damage to the regional electric backbone and other critical customers means that it could be "a few days or more" before the more than 1,200 repair crews are seen in neighborhoods doing repairs, LIPA's chief operating officer Michael Hervey said in an interview. LIPA expects full restoration to take at least 10 days, "and very possibly more," he said.

In all, 21 of the region's 27 hospitals have lost all or partial power from the grid, and they will be among the first to see repair crews, Hervey said. Of the total, 15 hospitals have their own generators, he said.

LIPA will also give priority to the extensive damage done to the transmission system in the wake of Sandy, including the roughly one-third of substations that have damaged or disconnected high-voltage lines from the area's power plants. A substation routes stepped-down power to neighborhood distribution networks. "We have several substations that do not have power to them," he said.

"This will go down as perhaps the largest disaster in Long Island history," Hervey said, noting the flooding, wind damage and the cumulative effect on the electric and other infrastructure.

While LIPA crews are only beginning to assess the damage, they are also working with local and county governments to help with the thousands of downed trees that require clearance from electric system where they have fallen on wires.

Southwest Nassau County appears to be hardest hit by the storm and in its electric system, largely because of flooding. Hervey said areas such as Long Beach were intentionally de-energized because the storm surge was "so much higher than predicted," and inundation of water while the electric remained on could have caused greater damage.

"We will be getting into those areas today as water comes down," to see if it's safe to turn the juice back on, he said.

Hervey declined to make a prediction about the pace of repairs, but said he considered it optimistic that LIPA would be able to get the outage number closer to 800,000 by Tuesday's end.

LIPA has commitments from 1,250 outside crews who are either on the ground working repairs or are due here soon. It seeks an additional 1,750 crews to deal with the large number of repair jobs, but competition for them is extremely tight because so many other regional utilities, including Con Edison, are dealing with large numbers of outages.

"We have over 2 million people without power" statewide, Cuomo said on CNBC Tuesday morning. "It's a more complicated situation for us than usual because there's basically a reciprocity with other states, where in a power situation other states will send in their crews. Because so many states were affected here, we're trying to get crews from as far away as Texas and California. We're using National Guard personnel to do power restoration. And then we'll get on with the long-term reconstruction."

Added Hervey, "We are going to get more crews, no doubt about it. It could take a few more days."

LIPA has significantly upgraded its outage reporting computer system that was in place last year but largely failed during Irene. The utility has started a transition to an entirely new outage computer system, but it won't be in place until next year, Hervey said.

For this storm, LIPA has smartphone texting capability set up and operating. Some customers have had issues signing up because new phone numbers didn't match LIPA-listed phones; they have been calling the LIPA hotline and are being helped through setting up that system.

Hervey urged customers to assume any downed wire is live and to keep away from it. The number to report an outage or downed wire is 800-490-0075.

With John Valenti, Joe Ryan and Yancey Roy

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