Thousands on New York’s Long Island remained without power Saturday as patience wore thin among weary residents, who complained about poor communication with the power utility.
“We just want help! We just want help!” shouted a resident at a demonstration outside Long Island Power Authority offices in Hicksville on Friday.
Hundreds of Long Island residents who have endured days of freezing weather protested Friday and Saturday outside the authority's offices, accusing the utility of ignoring the working-class community.
Nearly 300,000 customers across New York, New Jersey and West Virginia had no power Saturday morning. At the height of the storm, 8.5 million had lost power on the Eastern Seaboard.
While the region was attempting to recover from super storm Sandy, which made landfall Oct. 29, a nor’easter on Wednesday hampered recovery efforts and triggered more blackouts. More than 100 have died in the United States.
The recorded message on the power authority's customer hotline provided only general information for callers Saturday. It assured them that thousands of workers had been dispatched to help the restoration effort in Suffolk and Nassau counties. It directed them to a website for details on where the latest crews were headed.
The utility estimated there were about 66,000 power outages between the two counties Saturday afternoon. Nearly all outages caused by damage to the power grid’s infrastructure would be fixed within days, according to the utility's website.
But homes with flood damage to circuits and wiring will take longer. A customer must first hire an electrician to inspect and fix the home's equipment, and then notify the utility to schedule a day to hook up power.
Crews are going door to door for inspections too, but they are not making repairs. Homeowners have to shoulder the cost for replacing flood-damaged equipment, including breaker boxes and wiring. If they are not home when crews come by, they have to reschedule.
The mounting frustration has led to calls from residents and some lawmakers to end the power authority's contract as Long Island’s service provider. There are at least three online petitions calling for an investigation into its reaction to Sandy’s damage. Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised to hold the utility accountable for its response to the storm.
“When you don’t pay your bills, you failed as a customer," Cuomo said at a news conference Thursday.
The power utilities “have an obligation too. And they had a contractual obligation.... They failed. They were supposed to perform. They failed,” he said. “We gave them a franchise, they represented themselves as experts at doing this and they failed and they should be held accountable for their failure.”
Utility officials did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.