Thousands of workers began clearing tree branches and repairing electrical lines to restore power to almost 6 million U.S. homes and businesses after Hurricane Irene left a trail of destruction from North Carolina to Maine.
The recovery effort will take days, and in some cases weeks, as flooding from Irene’s torrential rains still threatens electrical infrastructure, said Philip Bedient, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston.
Almost 1 million customers lost power in New York, where Irene made landfall yesterday, according to a report from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office. Irene didn’t pack the hurricane-force winds that were predicted for the region.
“It could have been a lot worse in terms of storm surge, could have been worse in terms of the actual wind speeds,” Bedient said. “It did not strengthen like they originally thought.”
Falling trees dragged down power lines while a storm surge flooded substations, cutting electricity supplies to 471,000 customers on Long Island, said Michael Hervey, chief operating officer of Long Island Power Authority, during a conference call with reporters.
Power disruptions affected almost 6 million homes and businesses in 13 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Energy Department said in a report yesterday. Irene first hit the coast of North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane Aug. 27.
More than 800,000 customers were without power in Virginia and Maryland, and about 116,000 in Maine, the Energy Department said. About 850,000 FirstEnergy Corp. customers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland were without power, the company said today in a statement. Electricity has been restored to more than 400,000 of those, and crews are working to resume service to the rest, it said.
Downgraded to a tropical storm yesterday and moving through New England and into Quebec today, Irene drew comparisons to hurricanes Gloria in 1985 and Isabel in 2003. Gloria, which followed a similar path in 1985, left 750,000 customers without power in Long Island, Hervey said.
Damage was lighter in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg allowed residents evacuated from low-lying areas to begin returning yesterday afternoon after the storm passed. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News’ parent, Bloomberg LP.
Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx
About 120,000 Consolidated Edison Inc. customers were without power at 6:45 p.m. local time, said Chris Olert, a company spokesman. About 52,000 homes and businesses in Westchester County were without power while outages were reported in Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Consolidated Edison expects to restore power to most of its New York City customers by late tomorrow and to most of its Westchester customers by the end of Sept. 1, 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, told reporters yesterday.
Hervey of Long Island Power couldn’t say when repair work will be completed. The company is assessing wind damage to downed high-voltage lines, and possible tornado and flood damage to infrastructure across Long Island.
About 1,500 of the utility’s workers were scouting damage on Long Island yesterday as 2,000 linemen and tree-trimmers began to restore electricity, Hervey said. Long Island Power is requesting additional workers from its peers in states not affected by Irene.
“I just don’t know how long it will take,” Hervey said of the repair effort.
About half of the 2.4 million customers that Dominion Resources Inc. serves in Virginia and North Carolina lost power, making Irene the second-worst storm in the company’s history after Hurricane Isabel in 2003, Chet Wade, a company spokesman, said in a telephone interview.
Irene’s eye-wall winds lashed the eastern edge of Dominion’s service area, while tropical-storm force winds pounded Richmond, Virginia, for about 12 hours on Aug. 27, before the storm sped up the coast overnight, Wade said.
“It was close to its peak in wind speed and it stayed the longest” over Virginia, Wade said.
By 8 p.m., Dominion had reduced the number of customers without power to 738,000 from 1.2 million. The more than 6,000 workers deployed in the repair effort focused first on restoring power to hospitals and other public health and safety facilities, the Richmond-based company said in an e-mailed statement.
The utility will have a damage report and assessment of how long it will take to restore power by noon today, Wade said.
More than 611,000 Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. customers lost electricity during the storm and its aftermath, company spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said in a telephone interview. About 700,000 customers lost power during Isabel.
“We were prepared for the worst and that’s pretty much what we got,” Lighty said.
Two nuclear reactors, one in New Jersey and one in Maryland, were shut by the storm. None of the reactors in the storm’s path lost power from the grid as of noon, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.
One of the two reactors at Constellation Energy Group Inc.’s Calvert Cliffs nuclear station in Lusby, Maryland, shut automatically when the plant was hit by wind-driven debris. The plant’s second reactor is operating at full capacity.
Exelon Corp.’s Oyster Creek plant in Toms River, New Jersey, shut Aug. 27 in anticipation of hurricane-force winds, Exelon said in a statement.
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.
Public Service Electric & Gas Co., which provides power to almost three-quarters of New Jersey, was preparing to send about 6,000 workers to begin restoring electricity to 375,000 customers as of 7:30 p.m. local time, Deann Muzikar, spokeswoman for the Newark-based utility, said in a telephone interview. 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.