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LIPA: More than 10,000 without power after snowstorm hits Long Island

Utility trucks from Ohio and Indiana wait at

Utility trucks from Ohio and Indiana wait at a National Grid staging area in Bethpage State Park. (Feb. 8, 2013) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

More than 10,000 customers were without power after a major snowstorm hit the Long Island area, according to the Long Island Power Authority.

Wendy Lang of National Grid says they can get most customers back on line within 24 hours if crews can reach them, according to the Associated Press.

National Grid was preparing for a "significant" restoration effort with a ground force of 1,000 workers as the major winter storm hit an electric system just recovered from superstorm Sandy.

Friday, National Grid said its estimate of about 100,000 power outages from the blizzard could grow if conditions worsened, but that it did not expect them to last more than a day. 

On its first day in the driver's seat of LIPA's storm response, National Grid said it had hired 240 out-of-state high-voltage-line workers and 100 tree trimmers from outside. They will help the 500 local linemen and 150 tree trimmers already working for the company.

The New York Power Authority, meanwhile, has staff members on Long Island supporting National Grid's response to the storm, according to a source in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration, which is communicating directly with National Grid executives.

Asked if National Grid executives are required to seek LIPA approvals for all storm-response decisions, the source said, "That is not happening."

The roughly 1,000 people National Grid has on the ground are in sharp contrast to the more than 14,000 who ultimately helped restore power after Sandy, which cut the juice to more than 1 million Long Islanders.

At a briefing Friday, John Bruckner, president of National Grid's Long Island electric-system division, said the utility was ready for the storm, which he predicted "will cause damage."

The company expects "significant restoration efforts," he said, but added that he expects that any outages will be restored within a day.

Michael Taunton, the chief operating officer at LIPA, was introduced on the call, but Bruckner led it.

Bruckner said while the LIPA system endured significant damage during Sandy, "I will tell you that the damage . . . has been repaired."

He said National Grid is fully stocked with material -- after replacing thousands of telephone poles, transformers and hundreds of miles of wire after Sandy. "We do not expect any material shortages throughout this event," he said.

He said he doesn't expect storm surge levels to cause anywhere near the flooding damage that Sandy did, but the company has sandbagged substations in areas where flooding could be a problem, including one in Oyster Bay.

Having more than 240 extra workers on the ground before the storm would be a game changer in terms of response, Bruckner said. "We didn't see the [worker] resources until many days into Sandy," which required more than two weeks for full restoration.

National Grid will manage the restoration effort from its Hicksville headquarters, a major change from Sandy, when crews were dispatched locally from its scores of substations throughout Long Island.

Taunton, LIPA's finance chief who was recently named chief operating officer, said that while LIPA has passed off the prime communications and command function, it continues to maintain an "oversight" role of National Grid and other normal functions during the storm.

Asked specifically what oversight role he'd play, he said LIPA was involved in "pre-meetings" to determine "what type of resources we need" and in "working together in communicating with the governor's office."

The Cuomo administration source said state officials were "communicating [directly] with National Grid, monitoring their response to the storm."LIPA doesn't have a permanent chief executive, and its vice president of customer service left in a management exodus after Sandy.

Beyond the 240 crew members it has already contracted for, National Grid has not requested other outside crews, said Wendy Ladd, the National Grid spokeswoman who has taken charge of a function normally handled by LIPA representatives.

Ladd said any outages were expected to be short-lived.

"We expect [outages could last] 24 hours, but not four or five days," she said.

LIPA on Friday said it turned over storm-response and control of the system to National Grid -- the first time LIPA has ceded control of operations during a potential emergency -- because the outside contractor was "best suited" to handle the work.

"As LIPA's service provider and to ensure consistency in messaging, National Grid is commanding this incident and is best suited to communicate storm preparation and storm response to the public," said LIPA spokesman Mark Gross.

Not everyone backed the move. "As a new board member, I've been less than impressed with National Grid to date," trustee Jeffrey Greenfield said. "I'm waiting to be impressed."

National Grid will work around the clock Friday night responding to any outages, Ladd said.

Separately, National Grid's natural gas delivery division warned customers that heavy snow and icing conditions could pose a "serious safety risk" around gas vents and meters, and advised customers to "closely inspect areas around and over gas meters, service hook-ups and vents" that could damage equipment and prevent carbon monoxide from properly venting.

The company said in a statement that its crews were patrolling low-lying, flood-prone areas and natural gas facilities. "Customer contact offices will be increasing staffing, and support personnel are making sure that crew locations are fully stocked with equipment to repair service as needed," the company said.

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