Power lines were the biggest casualty of Hurricane Irene, leaving an estimated 523,000 Long Island households without power in what utility officials called one of the worst blows to the electrical grid in the region’s history.
On Wednesday morning, three days after the storm struck, state officials said the Long Island Power Authority crews had restored power to 64 percent of the customers who lost it, leaving about 190,000 still in the dark on Long Island. Workers should be able to restore power to 95 percent of customers by Friday at midnight, they said, leaving only small, localized outages to be repaired over the weekend.
“If our electric system were a person, we just got run over by a truck, and we have to put it back together,” LIPA Chief Operating Officer Michael D. Hervey said at a press conference on Tuesday.
LIPA officials said the South Fork, which sustained tropical storm-force winds in some places, was among the areas with the most damage to power lines from falling trees. On Tuesday, a map of outages on LIPA’s website showed 7,433 customers without power in Southampton Town and 4,008 in East Hampton Town, totalling about 16 percent of households on the South Fork.
One day earlier, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst estimated that 10,000 of her residents were without power. East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said about 7,000 residents of his town had no electricity before repairs began.
Mr. Hervey said Hurricane Irene was the second-worst disaster faced by LIPA or its predecessor, the Long Island Lighting Company—behind only Hurricane Gloria in 1985.
The utility had about 2,400 workers making repairs throughout Long Island on Tuesday, and expected another 255 to arrive this week, officials said. Hundreds of the workers were contracted from other states, including Texas, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida, and Illinois.
Ms. Throne-Holst and Mr. Wilkinson estimated that 200 workers had been deployed to each of their towns.
LIPA crews performed triage until Tuesday, sometimes by helicopter, identifying about 3,000 sites on the island that needed attention. Early on, crews focused on restoring power to hospitals, nursing homes, storm shelters, fire stations and other “critical facilities,” then moved on to repairing lines that fed the most customers, officials said.
On Tuesday, LIPA officials said that power to all hospitals had been restored, but some other high-priority facilities remained without electricity.
In East Hampton Town on Tuesday, outages were centered on Amagansett, where 1,966 households were without power, and Montauk, where 864 had no electricity, according to LIPA. The northeastern part of Southampton Town appeared to be the hardest hit, with a combined 4,799 customers without power in Noyac, North Sea, Southampton Village and Shinnecock Hills on Tuesday.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday that 528,160 people remained without power statewide.
Some elected officials, under pressure from residents and businesses, cried out for repairs to go faster this week. Ms. Throne-Holst said restoring power to the South Fork was critical as the local economy looked toward Labor Day weekend for a needed tourism—and financial—boost.
“I certainly appreciate all their efforts, but power has been very slow to return, and the idea that it might take another four or five days is unacceptable,” she said in a press release. “There is simply too much at stake for our resort economy.”
“Labor Day is the last profit-generating period of the 2011 summer season,” said State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. “If power outages extend though the holiday weekend, the economic impacts could be devastating for many of our local businesses.”
State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle said “LIPA gets an ‘F’” for its post-storm response, but also thanked utility workers for their “around-the-clock” work. U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York called on Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify and recruit more line workers for LIPA, to accelerate repairs.
LIPA officials responded to criticism on Tuesday, saying the pace of electrical system repairs was on par with responses to other disasters throughout the country.
“We are going as quickly as possible,” Mr. Hervey said. “We understand our customers’ frustration, and we ask their patience.”
Mr. Wilkinson defended the utility, saying crews appeared to be working “feverishly” to restore power. “I’m not one to necessarily beat up on these groups during times of emergency, because I realize operationally what a difficult task it is,” he said.