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New Yorkers rail against utility in power restoration delay

NEW YORK -- New Yorkers railed Sunday against a utility that has lagged behind others in restoring power two weeks after the superstorm that socked the region, criticizing its slow pace as well as a dearth of information.

At least 150,000 people in New York and New Jersey remained without power Sunday, including tens of thousands of homes and businesses that were too damaged to receive power at all. More than 8 million lost power during the storm, and some during a later nor'easter.

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 the Long Island Power Authority. More than 60,000 of the homes and businesses it serves were still without power Sunday, and another 55,000 couldn't safely connect even though their local grid was back online because their wiring and other equipment had been flooded. It would need to be repaired or inspected before those homes could regain power, LIPA said.

Customers told of calling LIPA multiple times a day for updates and getting no answer, or contradictory advice.

"I was so disgusted the other night," said Carrie Baram 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."

Baram, 56, said she and her husband, Bob, go to the mall to charge their cellphones and for Bob, a sales manager, to work. They trekked to her parents' house to shower. At night, they huddle under a pile of blankets and listen to the sound of fire engines, which Baram assumes are blaring because people have been accidentally setting blazes with their generators.

"It's dark," said an audibly exasperated Baram, "it's frightening, and it's freezing."

LIPA has said it knows that customers aren't getting the information they need, partly because of an outdated information technology system that it's is updating.

"'They're working on it, they're working on it' -- that would be their common response," Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said Sunday, 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.

"How could a utility of that size, with the financial support that it receives, fail to communicate with its residents?" he said. "Its basic logistics seem to have failed."

Mangano and other lawmakers have called for the federal government to step in and assist with restoring power to Long Island, saying LIPA could not be trusted to get the job done.

On Sunday, LIPA said it had restored power to 95 percent of homes and businesses where it was safe to receive power and that that figure would be 99 percent by the end of Tuesday. It scheduled a news conference for later Sunday to update its progress.

Phillip Jones, 43, a parole officer in Uniondale, said he had called LIPA about 10 times a day before his power was turned on Saturday and usually just got a busy signal. A few times he got a recording saying the company was aware of the problems and would call if it needed to speak to him.

"Which was kind of strange," Jones said, "because most of the phones were not working that well."

Jones also criticized LIPA's failure to find a way to tell people how long to expect to be without electricity.

"If they had said the lights won't be on until two weeks from now, I could have made a two-week plan," he said. Instead, he and his wife and two children had been sleeping in one bed to try to stay warm, and he missed two weeks of work. "All you could do was hope that today would be the day."

In New York City, the mayor's office said about 6,000 residents of low-income housing were still without power in 30 buildings. Ahead of a Veterans Day wreath-laying ceremony, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city was "getting more generators in" and added, "It's a question of how quickly the electricians can set things up."

He said heating is "a more complex problem, but that's coming along as well."

Police raised the city's death toll from the storm to 43, after the death of a 77-year-old retired custodian who apparently fell down the stairs of his apartment building in the Rockaways, when it was dark and without power. Family members found him on Oct. 31; he died at a hospital Saturday.

Though New York and New Jersey bore the brunt of the destruction, at its peak, the storm reached 1,000 miles across, killed more than 100 people in 10 states, knocked out power to 8.5 million and canceled nearly 20,000 flights. More than 12 inches of rain fell in Easton, Md., and 34 inches of snow fell in Gatlinburg, Tenn. Damage has been estimated $50 billion, making Sandy the second most expensive storm in U.S. history, behind Katrina.


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