New Storm Deepens Woe for Sandy’s Blacked-out 1.9 Million

With 84 percent of electricity restored after Hurricane Sandy, power companies zeroed in on devastated coastal areas in New York and New Jersey as an approaching winter storm threatens lives.

About 1.4 million homes and businesses remain without power a week after Sandy’s winds and record tides swamped Lower Manhattan and destroyed the electrical infrastructure in New Jersey’s seaside communities. Officials advised residents to flee their darkened homes for warm shelters as an approaching storm was expected to bring near-freezing temperatures, winds as high as 55 miles (88 kilometers) per hour and additional flooding.

In Wayne, New Jersey, Robert Mesuk, 76, and his wife, Sandra, 73, were huddling next to the fireplace in their townhome to stay warm as they entered their second week in the dark. Their utility, owned by Public Service Enterprise Group (PEG) Inc., told them they wouldn’t have power back until Nov. 10.

“We’ve got no heating, no cable, Internet or TV. Our land phone is out. The temperature in my living room is 49 degrees,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday before colder temperatures arrived.

Freezes are forecast in Wayne the next two days after the temperature dropped near-freezing overnight, according to the National Weather Service.

92 Percent

New Jersey and New York made up about 92 percent of the blackout map today. About 20 percent of New Jersey is still without power. Elected officials yesterday balanced praise for work accomplished with warnings that two-week estimates for recovery in some areas isn’t acceptable.

Yesterday’s power-restoration rate of 78 percent lagged behind that for last year’s Hurricane Irene, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Industries. At the same point during recovery from Irene, 94 percent of customers had power back, the data shows.

“Along the coast, the infrastructure is gone,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday in a press conference. “Things that took months or years to build are gone. How quickly we can get it back, I’m not sure.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo focused his attention on those still without power, not the more than 7 million who had been restored.

Meaningless Numbers

“The numbers are nice but they mean nothing if the power’s not on at your house,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said yesterday at a press conference from his offices in Midtown Manhattan. “I will continue to make it very clear to the utility companies that I’m going to hold them 100 percent accountable for their performance.”

With the U.S. presidential election tomorrow, recovery crews put special emphasis on restoring electricity to polling places, some in schools that have been shut since the storm struck Oct. 29 near Atlantic City, New Jersey. Cities made alternative arrangements, such as moving polling places to the City Hall in Long Branch, New Jersey. New York City moved about 60 polling places to new locations, Mayor Bloomberg said.

“We’re going to make sure everybody can vote,” the mayor said in a joint press conference yesterday with Cuomo and other elected officials. The mayor owns Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

Setting Priorities

Schools, polling places and seniors centers were a priority for crews working to get the lights back on for about 157,800 Consolidated Edison (ED) customers still without power as of about 11:39 a.m. local time today, said Mike Clendenin, a spokesman for the utility, which provides service to New York City and Westchester County in New York.

Getting power back to all customers in Westchester, where blocked roads hamper repairs, may take another week, Alfonso Quiroz, a Con Edison spokesman, said in a telephone interview.

Long Island Power Authority heeded demands by New York Mayor Bloomberg to accelerate power restoration on the devastated Rockaway Peninsula of Queens, the mayor said yesterday in a press conference. About 250,000 total LIPA customers remained without electricity as of 11:30 a.m local time today, the utility said on its website. About 100,000 of those buildings may be too severely damaged to accept power, it said in a statement.

In New Jersey, which makes up more than half of the persistent service losses from Sandy, Governor Chris Christie vowed to keep the pressure on utilities.

‘Won’t Stop’

“We won’t stop working until every last resident has their power back on,” Christie, a Republican, said yesterday at a press conference in Hoboken.

At the current pace, New Jersey power restoration will take another five days, Bloomberg Industries estimated.

FirstEnergy Corp. (FE)’s Jersey Central Power & Light, which served many of the shoreline communities battered by the storm, said yesterday that the majority of the utility’s 1.1 million customers would have power back by Nov. 7. Those in hardest-hit areas would have to wait as long as 14 days for electricity, and it may be even longer for some.

“In some areas where roads, infrastructure, homes and businesses were destroyed, restoration is currently impossible,” Jersey Central said in a statement yesterday. Jersey Central reported 368,194 of the more than 1 million customers who lost power were still without it as of 12 p.m. local time today.

Slowest Repairs

The utility’s repair rate is the slowest in the region, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Industries.

Con Edison’s Orange & Rockland utility has restored 61 percent of its Bergen County customers, the worst performance in the state, Governor Christie said in Hoboken yesterday.

“I’ve got a special call with them this afternoon,” the governor said. “Sixty-one percent is not acceptable after this period of time.”

Full power restoration in Bergen may take until 11:30 p.m. Nov. 11, Orange & Rockland said today on its website.

Mayor Adam Schneider of the coastal town Long Branch, New Jersey, had been frustrated by a lack of communication with Jersey Central.

“They were supposed to do an assessment 48 hours after the storm and they hadn’t done it,” Schneider said. “I told them, ‘Do we need to shelter people another couple of days, arrange to bring more food into town? If you can’t give us this information, we’re figuratively and literally working in the dark,’” Schneider said.

Lucky Meeting

Only after a chance meeting with the chief of a line crew yesterday did he arrange talks between the utility and town leaders so that restoration is “moving in the right direction, finally.”

Public Service, which also serves New Jersey, had 375,000 customers still without power at about 11:30 a.m. local time today. The utility said “virtually all” of those who had lost power would be back online by Nov. 9.

In Connecticut, Northeast Utilities (NU), owner of Connecticut Light & Power, estimates most of its customers will have electricity back by tomorrow, said Frank Poirot, a spokesman for the company.

The Mesuks of New Jersey are thinking about leaving their darkened home before the worst of the cold weather hits this week to drive down to their house in Naples, Florida. Yesterday morning Mesuk tried to fill his car with gasoline, but gave up when he found the long lines at the station “overwhelming.”

“We want to escape,” he said. “I’m hopeful that I will have enough gas in the tank to get me out of New Jersey.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Chediak in San Francisco at mchediak@bloomberg.net; Jim Polson in New York at jpolson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan Warren at susanwarren@bloomberg.net

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