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LIPA: About 38,000 LIers still without power

Storm damage is still evident on Oriole Avenue

Storm damage is still evident on Oriole Avenue in West Hempstead as trees and downed utility poles still block streets. (March 16, 2010) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

With frustrations rising, and about 38,000 customers still without power Tuesday morning, LIPA defended its handling of the most powerful storm it has faced since 1992, even as it pushed completion of the restoration work into Thursday.

Steadily worsening predictions of wind and rain on Friday and Saturday forced the Long Island Power Authority to continually adjust, officials said, with each updated forecast triggering a greater level of staffing. As of Monday, more than 2,000 crews were at work for LIPA responding to the storm-related problems.

As of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the official number of affected customers without power was 37,518, according to LIPA's Twitter page.

In a conference call Monday, LIPA chief Kevin Law noted even media outlets were caught off guard by the severity of the winds. He and other top LIPA officials monitored the storm Saturday and communicated with officials and National Grid managers largely from their homes. LIPA's storm center at National Grid's Hicksville office was fully staffed on Sunday.

Another day of wet windy weather Monday hampered LIPA's efforts to restore power to the 50,000 remaining of the 253,000 customers who lost power at some point during the storm. Some 15,000 were knocked out Monday.

As recently as February, the electric system had shown itself capable of withstanding storms with 40- to 50-mph wind gusts, said Mike Hervey, LIPA's senior vice president of operations. So, LIPA had planned for that level of storm early Friday: 90 linemen were on paid weekend standby, 12 on scheduled work and up to 52 first-responder crews were available.

By Friday night, as forecasts worsened, LIPA verified that 120 additional contractors would be available if needed. During the day, all available crews were called in, and 242 internal and contract crews were on the clock. An additional 26 tree trim crews were also on the clock by 8 p.m. through midnight Saturday, Hervey said.

If the strongest wind gusts -- which turned out to be 75 mph -- had been projected early Friday, LIPA would have had tried to add more contractors early, Hervey said, rather than reaching out to them Friday night.

He said it was too early to say what LIPA would have done differently, if anything. The high number of outages will prompt an action review.

Had weather forecasters early Friday predicted the strongest gusts, Hervey said, "We could have lined up contractors ahead of time," but at a cost.

Pete Wichrowski, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Upton, said that "overall the storm was well-hyped" ahead of time by the weather service, though it upgraded the storm's category early Saturday afternoon.

"The intensity of seeing 60 to 70 mph winds, that wasn't anticipated until . . . you started seeing the development of those wind gusts," he said.

With Bart Jones

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