Column: Powerless people left in dark by LIPA

11/08/2012 10:36 AM |
LIPA, Sandy, Reeves Park, Riverhead, Long Island

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Roberta’s house in Reeves Park is the only property in the neighborhood still without electricity after Sandy, she says.

By now, a lot of people have their electricity back in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

I got mine back Tuesday, and when you first get your power back it seems, to you at least, that Sandy is no longer a problem.

But there are many without power. And in some cases, it doesn’t seem to make sense why some houses have power and some don’t, or why fate chose the people it chose to leave in the dark.

Such is the case with Roberta. She lives in Reeves Park and still had no power as of Wednesday afternoon, though she says everyone else in her neighborhood does.

Even without electricity, Roberta, who didn’t want her full name used, has her hands full.

Her 87-year-old mother, a stroke victim, is paralyzed on one side and can’t get around by herself. Her 13-year son has Down’s syndrome. And Roberta doesn’t drive.

When LIPA repairmen came around over the weekend to restore electricity to the rest of her neighborhood, they told Roberta they couldn’t restore hers because the tree that had fallen on her house, pulling power lines down with it, had also crushed the electric meter box.

LIPA told Roberta she would have to get a private electrician to fix the box before they could come back and reconnect the power lines to her house. She had the box fixed, but getting LIPA back to restore the wires wasn’t proving too easy.

“I asked when they were coming back and they didn’t have an answer,” she recalled. “I said, ‘But you told me I had to have all this work done and you would come back.’ And now it’s getting cold.”

On Monday, a neighbor took them to stay at her house.

Roberta said her mother and son are both “out of their routine” and are constantly asking when they’re going home.

A few years ago, I guess, it could have been me grappling with a similar situation.

I had a brother with Down’s syndrome, and my mother was old and had “small strokes” that made it tough for her to get around or communicate. We took it a few steps further, too. We also had an even older father who was perfectly healthy but loved to get mad about things like this and the psychotic dog, which allegedly bit a guy who then sued us for $2 million.

And sometimes, the Down’s syndrome brother would open the gate and let the psychotic dog out of the house, which gave my father something else to get mad about, and I’d have to try to catch the dog before it attacked somebody.

But that was then. Now, it’s just me.

My other brother, who lives nearby, was mentioning the other day that it’s a good thing we didn’t have this kind of storm and power outage back then. There was Hurricane Gloria, but that happened in mid-September when it was warmer — and in 1985, when all those people were younger.

Something like this, in the cold, would be much harder.

As Roberta is discovering.

She has since found that she couldn’t even get LIPA on the phone anymore.

On Monday, the neighbor, who also didn’t want her name use, decided to contact the media. She contacted us. I went down there.

At first, I thought maybe she was calling the wrong numbers at LIPA. So I called the number I had just called the day before, since my power was out too, and, like Roberta, it seemed like everyone else in my neighborhood had gotten power back already.

No dice. Once you’ve made a report, an answering machine tells you they have the report, and it hangs up on you.

So I tried calling the LIPA public relations people. Certainly, they wouldn’t be the ones to come down and fix the power, but sometimes a little press attention will get some action.

The LIPA spokesperson, Karen Ryan, looked into the situation and eventually called back. She said a LIPA crew could be at Roberta’s house at an “estimated time” of 9 a.m. on Wednesday.

Of course, on Wednesday, a Nor’easter, and more outages, were forecast. Roberta asked if they could make it Tuesday. The LIPA spokesperson said there are thousands of people in the same situation, and that there were other homes in Reeves Park without power and that Wednesday 9 a.m. estimate was the best they could do.

So Roberta took it.

I drove by Roberta’s house on Wednesday morning at about 10:30 a.m. and again at 1 p.m. The wires were still sitting on the ground, and the new storm was getting stronger. She was still without power today.

LIPA needs to assign a unit to answer calls such as Roberta’s.

tgannon@timesreview.com