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Top Stories 2020: Tropical storm hits with a vengeance

If someone were to write a short history of Tropical Storm Isaias, which swept over Long Island and the North Fork on Aug. 4, it could be summed up as follows: It wiped out power for thousands in the middle of summer and PSEG was completely ill-prepared for it.

Across Long Island, Isaias knocked out power to more than 400,000 PSEG customers, including 5,000 in Riverhead and Southold. Making matters worse, PSEG had not staged any equipment on the North Fork ahead of time that would have made repairs go much quicker once the storm passed, and the PSEG command center crashed — leaving Southold and Riverhead residents unable to get real-time updates on the company’s outage map.

In short, PSEG was caught completely off guard by a storm that meteorologists had been tracking for days and anyone with a radio or television knew was headed our way. As a result, residents of both towns were, literally and figuratively, in the dark for days until repair trucks arrived in sufficient numbers to effectively begin restoring service.

With the command center down, area police departments could not get updates from PSEG, Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said after the storm struck. “We were really hit hard, with tons of trees down and wires down,” he said.

Across both towns, residents complained of hours-long waits to reach anyone at PSEG, even in cases where live wires were lying across their front yards and streets. As many people said in the aftermath of the storm, PSEG failed to prepare, respond and keep people informed.

As a result, the Long Island Power Authority filed a lawsuit against PSEG Long Island. The complaint seeks $70 million in damages for the utility’s failure to oversee storm management, including properly tracking the storm, securing adequate staffing to support power restoration and properly communicating with the public.

Many North Fork residents complained about having to throw out everything in their refrigerators, but even more complaints concerned PSEG’s failed communications system. A number of East End towns, including Riverhead, passed resolutions calling on the state Public Service Commission to have greater oversight of PSEG Long Island.