70,000 without power 2 weeks after Sandy

HICKSVILLE, N.Y. — More than 70,000 customers of Long Island Power Authority in New York were without electricity Monday, two weeks after Superstorm Sandy struck, and the often-criticized government entity mostly blamed factors beyond its control.

LIPA had restored power to nearly 1.1 million customers by Monday morning. Of those still in the dark, 46,300 mainly along Long Island’s south shore and Rockaway Peninsula had water damage to electrical panels and wiring and their service can’t be restored without an inspection and possibly repairs.

State officials have criticized the utility for poor customer communications after Tropical Storm Irene last year and for insufficient tree trimming maintenance. LIPA, a nonprofit whose board is chosen by the governor and lawmakers, contracts with National Grid for service and maintenance.

The lack of power restoration for a relative few in the densely populated region at the heart of the storm reinforced Sandy’s fractured effect on the area: tragic and vicious to some, merely a nuisance to others.

Perhaps none of the utilities have drawn criticism as widespread, or as harsh, as LIPA.

“We certainly understand the frustration that’s out there,” LIPA’s chief operating officer, Michael Hervey, said in a conference call late Sunday. But, he said, the storm had been worse than expected, no utility had as many workers in place beforehand as it would have liked, and the power was coming back rapidly “compared to the damage that’s been incurred.”

LIPA has said it knows that customers aren’t getting the information they need, partly because of an outdated information technology system that it is updating.

“I was so disgusted the other night,” said Carrie Baram, 56, of Baldwin Harbor, who said she calls the utility three times a day. “I was up till midnight, but nobody bothered to answer the telephone.”

Executives said Sunday that they were working on setting up information centers near the most heavily damaged areas. The company also said it had deployed 6,400 linemen to work on restoring power, compared to 200 on a normal day.

“‘They’re working on it, they’re working on it’ — that would be their common response,” Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said, describing LIPA’s interaction with his office.

He said LIPA had failed to answer even simple questions from its customers and that Sandy’s magnitude wasn’t an excuse.

Cleanup continues in New York and New Jersey, which bore the brunt of the destruction. At its peak, the storm knocked out power to 8.5 million in 10 states, and some during a later nor’easter. About 73,000 utility customers in New York and New Jersey remained without power late Sunday, most of them on Long Island.

On hard-hit Staten Island, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano visited with disaster-relief workers Sunday in the Midland Beach neighborhood, which is still devastated two weeks after Sandy hit.

Napolitano said “a lot of progress” had been made since the storm hit and especially since her last visit 10 days earlier.

“It seems like a different place,” she said. “You can really tell the difference.”

But, she added, there was a lot more to do. “The last big chunk” to solve, she said, is the question of how quickly power can be returned to thousands of homes without it.

If homes are not inhabitable even after power returns, she said, the government is finding temporary apartments and hotels where evacuees can stay — preferably in the same community so kids can continue going to the same schools.

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