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Sandy Cuts Power to More Than 8 Million in U.S. Northeast

By: Julie Johnsson and Jim Polson |

Record flooding knocked out power to more than 8 million people in the U.S. Northeast, shutting down public transportation and paralyzing Manhattan’s financial district as remnants of super storm Sandy churned west.

Con Edison said blackouts in Manhattan, which covered much of the city below 39th Street, were caused by flooding in substations as the storm surge brought water into Battery Park, the East Village and Chelsea.

(Allison Joyce | Getty Images)

The storm, which made landfall in southern New Jersey late yesterday, cut power to more than 2 million New Yorkers as it submerged parts of downtown New York City, blowing transformers and tearing down power lines. Public officials and utilities from South Carolina to Maine and as far west as Michigan and Indiana pleaded for patience as power crews assessed damage from the storm’s high winds, rains and record tides.

Consolidated Edison (ED), which owns New York’s utility, said the lights would remain off for four days in Brooklyn and Manhattan and as long as a week in other parts of the city as the power company recovered from the worst storm in its history.

“Clearly the challenges our city faces in coming days are enormous,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference today as he pledged to move “heaven and earth” to help power companies and transportation workers get the city back to normal “as soon as humanly possible.”

The U.S. Energy Department estimated more than 8.2 homes and businesses lost power from Sandy, according to a statement posted on its website today. New Jersey, New York and Connecticut were hardest hit by the storm, with 5.3 million people losing electricity. More than 2.6 million New Jersey residents lost power, more than double the number affected by Hurricane Irene in 2011, according to the Energy Department.

New Jersey

Public Service Enterprise Group (PEG), which owns New Jersey’s largest utility, said more than 1.4 million customers were left in the dark as a result of Sandy.

“This wall of water that hit the state of New Jersey is not something that we could have prepared for,” Ralph LaRossa, president and chief operating officer at Public Service Electric & Gas Co., said today on a conference call with reporters.

In Atlantic City, the storm washed chunks of the boardwalk inland, hitting houses and buildings and clogging thoroughfares like Atlantic Avenue.
Further in town, local residents without power were flocking to a handful of local convenience stores that were open and had supplies ranging from essentials such as water and food to treats such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and cigarettes.

‘So Scared’

“I’ve never in my life seen water like that. I was so, so scared,” Atlantic City resident Yolanda French recalled during an interview inside Food4Less in the 1700 block of Atlantic Avenue.

French couldn’t get out of the city and rode the storm out with her two daughters, Sydney and Porsha. Their apartment complex doesn’t have power, which the local electric company said may not be restored for 10 days. “It’s so cold in the apartment, I have to use the stove for heat,” French said.

As winds diminished, utility crews today began assessing the devastation and laying plans to repair the grid and bring back power.

Once flood waters recede, Public Service will evaluate the damage to its flooded substations, dry out equipment and replace it where necessary. It will take a week or more to restore electricity to the hardest-hit areas, LaRossa, the utility’s president, said today.

Slow Repairs

Low-lying areas of New York City and Westchester remain under water, making repairs impossible, according to Con Edison. The storm knocked down more than 200 electric lines on Staten Island and closed more than 180 roads in Westchester County, the company said in a statement today.

Public Service said “walls of water” flooded substations along the Passaic, Raritan and Hudson rivers, with the Newark- based company’s urban centers especially hard hit.

Damage from salt water, which can cause electrical systems to short circuit, will complicate the massive clean-up, Matthew Cordaro, former chief operating officer of Long Island Lighting Co., said in a telephone interview yesterday. “It introduces a whole host of problems, contamination that has to be cleaned,” Cordaro said.

The first priority of utility officials will be to repair large transmission lines downed by the storm, then to focus on substations, which funnel the power into distribution networks, Gregg Edeson, an executive with London-based PA Consulting, said in a telephone interview today. The extra crews they’ve mustered from as far away as California and Canada will pay particular attention to restoring power to hospitals, shelters, pumping stations and waste-water treatment plants, he said.

Generator Backups

All of Connecticut’s sewage treatment plants are back up and running, with at least four that are relying on generator capacity, Governor Dannel Malloy said today in a press conference.

“If you lose that generator capacity, then you lose the ability to process,” Malloy said. “Suffice it to say, in the immediate time being, no one should eat the clams or oysters.”

Sandy’s costs are expected to range from $10 billion to $20 billion, Eqecat Inc., an Oakland, California-based provider of catastrophic risk models estimated before the storm struck yesterday.

The total would include insured losses of about $7 billion to $8 billion, said Charles Watson, research and development director at Kinetic Analysis Corp., a hazard-research company based in Silver Spring, Maryland. Cities and states will pick up much of the remaining tab as they repair infrastructure such as New York’s subways and tunnels, Watson said.

Con Edison

Con Edison reported more than 811,000 customers without electricity as of 3:15 p.m. local time in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn. The total surpasses the last record power failure, when Hurricane Irene caused 203,000 Con Edison customers to lose power in August 2011.

Earlier, the company said it had restored power to about 140,000 of the 930,000 customers affected at some point by the storm.

The company said blackouts in Manhattan, which covered much of the city below 39th Street, were caused by flooding in substations as the storm surge brought water into Battery Park, the East Village and Chelsea neighborhoods. Con Edison began shutting down some power networks last night to limit the damage from saltwater reaching its equipment.

More than 2 million residents in New York state lost power because of the storm, Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference today. Long Island Power Authority, east of New York City, reported 939,932 customers without electricity as of 3 p.m. in New York and said it may be 10 days before all is restored.