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2 weeks post-Sandy, tens of thousands without power

Lee Westerlind of National Grid Community and Customer

Lee Westerlind of National Grid Community and Customer Management for Nassau County, speaks to neighbors as electric crews arrive to restore power on Sparrow Lane in Levittown. (Nov. 12, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Tens of thousands of Long Islanders and Rockaway residents still were without power Monday -- two weeks after superstorm Sandy -- with the Long Island Power Authority promising to have 99 percent of customers whose electrical systems were not too damaged up and running by Tuesday night.

LIPA said at midday that it had restored power to about 97 percent of its customers whose homes are able to receive electricity safely. Roughly 21,000 of such customers remained in the dark; officials said more than half of those should have power by this evening, with the rest to get it by Friday.

Another 46,000 customers in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and the portion of the Rockaways the utility serves will have to wait, perhaps weeks, for damaged electrical systems to be repaired before power can be restored, LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey said at a news conference.

"There is a shift that is happening that people have to be aware of," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday. "It is not a power issue any longer. It is a housing issue -- and 98, 99 percent of the people who can have their power back, do. If you don't have your power back, it probably means power can't be restored to your home at this time."

Those without electricity couldn't take even cold comfort in the governor's words.

On Sparrow Lane in Levittown, most of the money Michael and Margarite Hunt had set aside to pay the monthly mortgage went to buy takeout food and fuel for a generator that gives them and their three sons, ages 8 to 16, enough power for lights but not the electric stove, they said.

Monday, the couple's middle child, Peter, 10, grabbed a leftover bagel for lunch, but it was hard as a rock. At his father's instruction, the child hung the bag containing the bagels on the front door and waited for the sun to soften the dough.

Across the street, Richard Vitagliano, 69, and his partner, Diane Miceli, 55, who is recovering from a punctured lung and two broken ribs, have lived without heat, hot water and electricity since Sandy struck Oct. 29.

"We cried for help and nobody ever answered the phone" at LIPA, Vitagliano said. "We get a recording."

After a neighbor contacted the media Monday seeking help, a LIPA crew turned up, they said. Power was restored by midafternoon.

Hervey, responding to public outrage about the outages and LIPA's poor communications with customers, said the utility will open an information center in Oceanside. There, residents have taken to the streets in protest.

Asked why the information center was being opened two weeks after the storm, Hervey replied there was "an outcry for additional information on the South Shore."

In Long Beach, one of the communities hardest-hit by flooding, city officials Monday said electricity had been restored to 97 percent of homes that are able to safely receive power. About 60 of the city's approximately 10,000 homes are not safe for electricity, officials said.

An unspecified number of homes can receive power but city officials have asked the homeowners to first get an electrical inspection to ensure that they are safe.

Keith Casey, 53, still had no power at his home, and has been shuttling each day between his in-laws' home in Holbrook and his heavily damaged house on Dalton Street in the Canals neighborhood.

He said he will begin driving his 9-year-old daughter to school in Long Beach, where classes in the public schools are resuming Tuesday. But he wants to keep her away from the house, where the floorboards are torn up and the 4-foot waterline is noticeable.

"I don't want her to see this," Casey said.

His home is unsafe to receive electricity -- just one of many difficulties in rebuilding the house, which he said suffered several hundred thousand dollars' worth of damage.

"I will rebuild," he said. "I don't have a choice. Who's going to buy this?"

In Oceanside, Mills Street is a tiny dead-end road with no more than seven houses. In the days since Sandy, the absence of heat and power has brought residents together and torn their patience to shreds.

Gloria Ruiz, 52, said the two weeks without power for her and her husband -- along with her daughter, son-in-law, two grandchildren, a dog and a turtle, flooded out of their own Oceanside home -- has been increasingly tough to take.

Monday, she said her husband, normally an unemotional person, spotted a utility truck driving toward their street. Even he couldn't keep his cool, she said.

"He was screaming, 'Make the turn! Make the turn!' " Ruiz said. The truck turned, she said, and they both cried, "Hallelujah!"

The crew of workers from Texas, Illinois and Missouri vowed that the power would be back by bedtime. About 7 p.m., the family reported, the lights came on.

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