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Irene Cuts Electricity to Almost 6 Million on East Coast

A downed power pole sits at Wiggins Street
A downed power pole sits at Wiggins Street and Jefferson Road in Princeton, New Jersey, on Aug. 28. Photographer: John McCorry/Bloomberg

Almost 6 million U.S. homes and businesses were without power as a weakening Tropical Storm Irene moved into New England and utilities began assessing damage in the wake of the storm.

Power disruptions affected 13 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Energy Department said in a report today. Irene first hit the coast of North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane yesterday. More than 800,000 customers were without power in Virginia and Maryland. Maine was the latest state added to the department’s list, with about 116,000 customers lacking power.

Falling trees and debris dragged down power lines and winds blew over electrical poles, cutting electricity supplies to 471,000 customers on Long Island, east of where the storm made its second landfall today, the Long Island Power Authority said. More than 900,000 lost power in the state, according to a 1 p.m. report from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office.

Consolidated Edison Inc. had about 115,000 customers without power at 3 p.m., said Chris Olert, a company spokesman. Almost 50,000 customers in Westchester County lack power, he said. The other areas without electricity are in Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx. The company’s goal is to have the majority of power restored by late on Aug. 30, Olert said.

“This was a two-part event for Con Edison -- water and wind,” John Miksad, the company’s senior vice president of electric operations, said on a conference call with reporters today.

Manhattan Networks

The company won’t need to shut down any power networks in Manhattan and isn’t dealing with major flooding of its steam system, said Miksad, who called those two things among his biggest worries. Shutting down power in lower Manhattan may have affected the financial district and taken days to restore, he said.

Two nuclear reactors, one in New Jersey and one in Maryland, shut as Irene roared up the eastern seaboard. None of the reactors in the storm’s path lost power from the grid as of noon, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.

Constellation Energy Group Inc. called off an “unusual event” at its Calvert Cliffs nuclear station in Lusby, Maryland, where wind-driven debris triggered Unit 1 to automatically shut. An unusual event is the lowest of four emergency classifications. The plant’s second reactor is operating at full capacity.

New England Push

Exelon Corp.’s Oyster Creek plant in Toms River, New Jersey, shut yesterday in anticipation of hurricane-force winds, said David McIntyre, a commission spokesman. The plant owner is waiting to resume output after it and the commission’s on-site inspectors do a safety assessment, Suzanne D’Ambrosio, an Oyster Creek spokeswoman, said in a phone interview today.

Irene, which once had winds of up to 120 miles (194 kilometers) an hour, was downgraded to a tropical storm as it pushed its way into New England.

There were 327,360 Massachusetts homes and businesses without power as of 1 p.m. local time, according to Scott McLeod, a spokesman for the state’s emergency management agency.

High tide coupled with a storm surge tonight may cause flooding in the Buzzard’s Bay region of southeastern Massachusetts, McLeod said. Flooding inland posed serious problems for Berkshire County in western Massachusetts, he said.

As winds and rain began to lighten behind the storm in New York, North Carolina and Virginia, utilities began moving work crews into neighborhoods to assess damage and restore power.

Second-Worst Storm

Dominion Resources Inc. said in a statement about half its 2.4 million customers in Virginia and North Carolina lost power, making Irene the second-worst storm in the company’s history after Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

Dominion deployed more than 6,000 workers to repair storm damage. Early efforts were focusing on restoring power to hospitals and other public health and safety facilities, the Richmond, Virginia-based company said in an e-mailed statement.

The company will have a damage report and assessment of how long it will take to restore power by noon tomorrow, it said.

Pennsylvania and Connecticut each had more than 600,000 customers with no electricity, and there were more than 810,000 in New Jersey with no power as of 3 p.m. local time, according to the Energy Department report.

New Jersey Clean-Up

In New Jersey, about 330,000 customers of Public Service Electric and Gas Co. were without power, Deann Muzikar, spokeswoman for the Newark, New Jersey-based utility, said in a telephone interview.

Public Service, which provides power to nearly three-quarters of New Jersey’s homes and businesses, also has about 6,000 workers poised to begin clean-up efforts as soon as winds recede, Muzikar said. The effort should take five to seven days as workers repair downed power lines as well as underground natural-gas distribution equipment damaged by flooding, she said.

Progress Energy Inc. had about 137,500 customers in North and South Carolina without power as of 5 p.m. today local time, Scott Sutton, a company spokesman said in an interview. That marked a roughly 50 percent reduction from the peak yesterday of 280,000, he said.

“It was the real deal -- a hurricane making landfall in North Carolina,” Sutton said, with high winds extending inland. He said there are pockets of “substantial damage,” such as on islands.

The company will release estimated restoration times after it completes a damage assessment, Mike Hughes, another Progress spokesman, said.

“We know it’s going to be a multi-day outage for the hardest-hit areas,” Hughes said.

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