LIPA chief: We’re out there, and we’re on schedule for Friday

08/31/2011 10:26 PM |

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | John Bruckner, President for Long Island Electric Transmission and Distribution Services for National Grid, and Michael Hervey, Long Island Power Authority Chief Operating Officer at a press conference Wednesday in Hicksville.

Riverhead’s nearly 4,000 still-powerless residents might not have seen many Long Island Power Authority trucks this week, but workers are out there doing their jobs, LIPA Chief Operating Officer Michael Hervey said at a press conference in Hicksville Wednesday.

Mr. Hervey said that while fixing what has been the third-worst power outages a Long Island utility company has sustained since Hurricane Gloria in 1985, workers must rebuild lines from the power source, which would explain why trucks weren’t all over the roads right after the storm.

“We have to rebuild the circuit from its source,” Mr. Hervey said. “It’s a very systematic effort.”

More than a half million customers were effected by power outages after Tropical Storm Irene downed trees and utility poles across the Island Sunday.

About 20 percent of Riverhead area residents were still not connected as of Wednesday afternoon. Calverton has headed the list of power outages in Riverhead Town, with 44 percent of households and businesses having no power Wednesday, and in Wading River, 40 percent of people were powerless as of 2 p.m., according to LIPA’s power outage map, which is continually updated.

The hamlets of Riverhead, Northville, Aquebogue, Jamesport and Riverside in Riverhead Town, and Flanders, Riverside and Northampton in neighboring Southampton Town were faring much better, according to the LIPA figures. Jamesport saw its share of outages since Sunday but as of Wednesday afternoon just 64 power outages were reported from 1,350 customers.

A time line has not yet been set for specific communities, but 90,000 customers have been restored in the past 24 hours, Mr. Hervey said at the press conference, adding that some 90 percent of LIPA customers should have power by midnight Friday, a prediction LIPA officials first made Monday.

Roughly 600,000 customers were without power at the outages peak on Sunday, and many people here and elsewhere have complained that LIPA has been inattentive — and almost impossible to get in touch with — throughout.

Mr. Hervey said LIPA walk-in customer service centers have been closed since the storm but “on the web, we’re still open for business.” Customers service representatives can also be reached at 1-800-490-0075.

“There will be increased numbers of what we call ‘intentional outages’ ­­— outages that are required for crew safety,” Mr. Hervey said. “Don’t be surprised if there are some short-duration outages in your area. That’s a normal part of the restoration.”

Locally, residents across town were making do using generators and getting help from neighbors.

Judy Gnatowski of the Lakewood Park retirement community in Calverton said she had just purchased $200 worth of Omaha Steaks and did a big shopping trip at BJ’S Wholesale last week before learning the storm was going to hit.

She’s since plugged her refrigerator into her next-door neighbor’s outlet in the mobile home park off River Road. Her neighbor still has power, she said.

“I’m charging my phone in my car,” Ms. Gnatowski said. “I’m going to my daughter’s for showers. I toasted bagels on the barbecue.”

She said the biggest threat from the prolonged power outages in her community is the potential for food loss.

“All of us here are on pensions and Social Security,” she said.

Some in Jamesport were taking the power outages in stride.

“Everybody here is looking out for each other,” said Jim McEntee, 49, of Vista Court, which was almost completely without power through Tuesday. “I’m just glad nobody got hurt.”

Mr. McEntee, who had served with the U.S. Navy’s Disaster Recovery Team in the mid-1980s, said his biggest concern was keeping his multiple sclerosis medicine cool, restocking it once a day with ice — though he said ice was hard to come by Sunday morning.

“That’s my primary concern,” he said of the medicine. “The stuff costs a ton and I stocked up before the storm hit.”

But as the each day goes by without juice, Bayview Inn & Restaurant owner Bob Patchell of Mattituck loses more money.

“We’d be full this week” he said Tuesday afternoon. “This is the last big week of summer.”

The building lost power about 5 a.m. Sunday, he said, and has also been without cable, internet or phone.

If the outages last through Friday, he said he could expect to lose between $30,000 and $40,000 in business. He said the company has already lost about $3,000 in food, though some of the pricier steaks were taken to his chef’s house for refrigeration.

He said the restaurant was “dead, dead” Saturday before the storm, a night he would typically serve about 120 people.

“We did maybe 10 covers,” he said.

In Flanders, Dottie Minnick was using a portable 4,200 kilowatt solar-powered generator for sssnecessities. The set up, which retails for about $11,000, didn’t cost Ms. Minnick a cent to rent — she’s an employee of Go Solar in Aquebogue.

The generator works continually in sunlight and six to eights hours after dusk, she said.

And her neighbors have noticed how quiet the machine is compared with noisy diesel-powered generators.
“People have already been asking me about it,” she said. “It’s perfect for this.”

vchinese@timesreview.com

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