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Long Island

Power restored for many after strong storm

A tree landed on top of a car

A tree landed on top of a car parked on Chestnut Street in Massapequa, Sunday. (March 14, 2010) Photo Credit: Adam Daley

The worst storm LIPA has faced in nearly 20 years knocked out power to one in five customers and 50 schools, and required fill-in crews from as far as Michigan to help restore power, officials said Sunday.

As of 7 a.m., there were more than 64,000 customers without power with about half of them living in the Hempstead area.

It may take until - or perhaps as late as Wednesday morning - to restore power to thousands left in the dark after gale-force winds downed countless trees that became ensnared in electrical wires and "wreaked havoc" with the electrical system from Far Rockaway to the East End, officials said.

Much of the damage was concentrated on the South Shore, Long Island Power Authority chief Kevin Law said. Outages were mainly in the towns of Hempstead, Babylon and Islip.

Upward of 240,000 customers were without power at one point during the nor'easter, and as of 9:30 Sunday night, 75,739 customers were still out, officials said.

Law called the storm, with top winds of 75 mph, one of the top five weather events that have affected Long Island in 40 years. The LIPA system is designed to handle 40-mph winds, he said.

"Anything over 50, and all bets are off," he said.

In fact, the intensity of the winds caught LIPA and others by surprise. Spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter acknowledged that LIPA's storm center in Hicksville was not fully staffed on Saturday, but she said "advanced technology" such as BlackBerry phones with e-mail kept LIPA staff in contact with elected officials and others throughout the day as the storm worsened.

The storm center was staffed Sunday, she said.

Some 500 National Grid employees from upstate were scheduled to travel to Long Island to help with the restoration, Baird-Streeter said. As of last night, more than 1,000 people were deployed, she said.

LIPA/National Grid crews were working 16-hour shifts. Hospitals and others needing critical care and schools and areas where large outages occurred were given priority.

LIPA's promises to get power up quickly were not enough for some ratepayers, who were still out last night.

"They act like they're doing all this stuff - they're doing nothing," said Maria Campo, of North Babylon, who has called LIPA repeatedly because her mother is on critical care for breathing problems.

Her lights were out from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, then went down again in the morning at 10:15, and were out all day. Food in her refrigerator was spoiling, and LIPA representatives gave her mixed messages about whether she should keep calling to tell them of her outage.

"This is going on all day," she said last night. "I still have no electricity. I'm getting disgusted."The last time it took more than a day to restore service was during the so-called 100-year storm in 1992, when 456,000 Long Island Lighting Co. customers lost power, officials said. Law urged those with lingering outages to call LIPA's hotline, 800-490-0075, even if they had called previously.

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