This story was reported by Candice Ferrette, Lisa L. Colangelo, Alfonso A. Castillo, Keldy Ortiz, Deborah S. Morris, Rachelle Blidner, Nicholas Spangler, Joan Gralla, Mark Harrington, Zachary R. Dowdy, Antonio Planas and Matthew Chayes. It was written by Brodsky.
PSEG Long Island crews continued to work to restore power, as tens of thousands of frustrated customers endured a third consecutive night in the dark, their yards and roads littered with downed power lines, fallen trees and debris.
The utility made progress in restoring power to more than 70% of the 440,000 customers who lost electricity during Tropical Storm Isaias — the most since superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Although PSEG said late Thursday that about 108,000 customers were without power, that was little solace to the Long Islanders still stuck with no electricity or air conditioning.
Elderly residents with medical problems and the parents of children with health concerns continued to bombard the utility, seeking answers on when their power would come on — with many complaining they've been unable to receive concrete information.
“This is really a horrible situation," said Judy Ulberg, whose Bellmore home on April Lane has been without power since Tuesday and is not expected to be restored until Saturday. "You’re relying on a company that should have been prepared, and they’re not.”
The Long Island Power Authority said late Thursday that it had hired an outside firm to conduct an independent review of PSEG’s response to the storm, which LIPA's chief executive called “unacceptable.” PSEG manages the LIPA grid under a long-term contract.
County and town officials, meanwhile, described a staggering mess that will take days to clean up. An estimated 3,000 trees or limbs are scattered throughout the region — many tangled with live power lines — and dozens of traffic lights across Nassau and Suffolk were still inoperable.
"It’s an overwhelming situation," said Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino, who was waiting on PSEG to clear six locations where trees had taken down power lines.
Progress, but not fast enough
With additional high-voltage line workers trickling onto Long Island to help, PSEG said it expects 85% of customers will have power restored by the end of the day Friday, with the remainder back by midnight Saturday.
“We ask for your patience,” said PSEG Long Island president and chief operating officer Dan Eichhorn, who defended the utility's performance amid an avalanche of complaints and calls for investigations.
Eichhorn said the company’s decision to call in 2,500 workers last weekend, and have many on the ground by Tuesday, helped expedite what could have been a more difficult restoration. Additional crews from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Florida are on their way, he said.
“Our preplanning efforts really saved us here,” he said. “If we didn’t make that decision … we would have been in a world of hurt now."
But the lights can't come on fast enough for Richard Vitagliano of Levittown, who is ill and living at home without electricity, his daughter said.
“He’s having a hard time breathing,” Phyllis Kelly said of her father, who also experienced an extended outage during Sandy.
The problems extended to New York City, where 56,000 Con Edison customers remained in the dark Thursday, down from 180,000 at the peak of the storm.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the utility's original promise to fully restore power by Sunday was unacceptable.
"We just can’t have people wait that long. It’s not fair," he said.
New Yorkers were not alone in their power woes. In Connecticut, 590,036 customers remained out of power statewide Thursday, with utility Eversource saying it hoped to restore the bulk of outages by the end of the weekend.
Failure to communicate
While many Long Islanders complained about the pace of restoration, others were outraged about their inability to report an outage — or even receive a general estimate of when it may be restored.
“The one time I got a person on the phone, our conversation was followed by a test from PSEG advising a home on a different street was now registered to my account,” said Gary Fortman of Huntington.
For two days, downed trees with live wires have blocked access to Fortman's roadway, but the PSEG map doesn’t show his outage. After several attempts to get PSEG to resolve it, he and several neighbors put up signs and were blocking traffic onto his road.
“I’m just not even sure PSEG even knows we have this problem on our street," he said.
Eichhorn said the utility has made improvements with its communications, but “we know it’s not 100% there. It’s not the experience our customers on Long Island deserve.”
He said high call volumes — the utility is still fielding about 6,000 calls an hour from customers — had impacted the company’s ability to respond to phone, text and emailed messages. “We’re not happy with what’s happened,” he said.
But even the company's public-facing outage map continues to report outdated information, including 100,000 more outages than Eichhorn has indicated.
“We have a lot of people working on it,” Eichhorn said.
The Nassau Legislature announced that it would hold an Aug. 13 hearing to review the performance of PSEG and other county first responders.
“People are still being affected by it," said Legis. Denise Ford, a Long Beach Democrat who caucuses with Republicans. "They’re upset. They don’t know when they are going to be restored.”
The move comes amid a series of demands by public officials for investigations.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Wednesday requested the state Department of Public Service investigate PSEG Long Island and several other utilities, including Con Edison and Verizon, which PSEG has blamed for its communication bottleneck. Six Democratic Long Island state senators have asked state Attorney General Letitia James to investigate PSEG. And both Suffolk and Nassau County executives are requesting reviews.
Cuomo Thursday said it was the utility's job to prevent damage during the storm and quickly conduct repairs afterward.
"That's why we pay them," Cuomo said. "We pay them to provide a service. The service they provide is when it's sunny out, everything works. The service is also anticipating a storm; anticipating the issue and making sure people don't lose power when a storm comes."
The state, Cuomo said, was paying 7,000 municipal workers to supplement the emergency response.
"I'm not in the business of providing utility service," he said. "That's their business so we have to call out state employees to do this. That further aggravates the situation."
Eichhorn said the company would cooperate with investigators.
A 'punch in the gut'
Across the region, widespread damage was reported from Tuesday's fast-moving but powerful storm.
A flat roof was ripped off a parks department depot in Kings Park in Smithtown. At least 300 trees were uprooted in the town, and traffic signals at busy intersections remained dark. At least 860 trees were uprooted in Oyster Bay, officials said.
“Driving at night is a risk people should not take if they can avoid,” said Smithtown Town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said 1,500 trees were felled in the storm, forcing the partial closure of many county roads where PSEG wires are intertwined with debris.
“The amount of debris in the county is mountainous,” she said.
There was progress on other fronts.
The Long Island Rail Road, which shut down service during Isaias, restored the last of its storm-related service suspensions early Thursday.
But Alessandra Napoli, spokeswoman for Nassau Inter-County Express, Nassau’s bus provider, said the ongoing cleanup and utility restoration “will mean ongoing systemwide delays.”
The cleanup was equally staggering in Suffolk, where downed trees and wires played havoc on frazzled motorists.
After months of struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout, Isaias was an unwelcome addition to 2020, said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
The storm, he said, was “another punch in the gut to a community and people already in crisis in many ways.”
By the numbers
PSEG Long Island worked through the night and has restored service to about 300,000 customers affected by Tropical Storm
Isaias, which was one of the strongest to hit the area in years.
- The storm affected about 440,000 customers. Fewer than 108,000 customers remained without power Thursday night.
- Due to the large number of crews from other utilities brought into our service area before Isaias, power restoration is progressing faster than can be displayed on the outage map. The map will fluctuate.
- PSEG estimates 85% of customers will be restored by end of the day Friday, with the remainder restored by midnight Saturday. More than 2,000 line workers, tree trimmers and other personnel are working around the clock, in 16-hour shifts, until every customer is restored.
- More than 3,000 fallen trees or large limbs have been reported. PSEG Long Island tree crews and contractors have cleared more than 500 locations.
SOURCE: PSEG Long Island