Sandy: Working our way back
Governor Christie pressed utilities to get the lights on for hundreds of thousands of people facing a sixth night of dark and cold Saturday, as gasoline rationing began in northern counties and President Obama poured millions of dollars in federal disaster relief into the state.
More than 10,000 utility workers, aided by equipment airlifted by the military, were deployed around the state, and the utilities Saturday released town-by-town progress reports and projections of when power would be restored.
But by the end of the day, many said the reality fell short of expectations.
More than 200 people remained in the Bergen County shelter in Mahwah. And in a sign that the crisis was still unfolding, a failed generator forced the evacuation of a Tenafly nursing home late Saturday; 10 residents were taken to area hospitals, police said.
With temperatures dropping and longer nights looming, residents were impatient, even as they voiced appreciation for the herculean challenge faced by crews clearing trees and wires and restoring substations, transmission lines and feeder wires.
Oct. 30, 2012: Sandy punishes North Jersey
Oct. 31, 2012: Utility customers facing long wait
“We’re cold,” said Rocco Pescatore, who spent Saturday huddled around the fireplace of his dark, ever chillier Hillsdale home with his four children. “I don’t even see people [crews] around here. Give us a time frame. Should we move to shelters?” No work crews were assigned to his town through Monday, according to the PSE&G work plan.
“This is an hour-by-hour test for” the power companies, the governor said, following a tour of hard-hit Little Ferry. Utility executives said much of the hard work of stabilizing the transmission grid was invisible to individual customers, but was necessary before the painstaking house-by-house restoration could be completed. And their priorities thus far have been public safety facilities, hospitals and refineries and fuel distribution points.
“We really want to have an emphasis on normalcy,” said Christie, looking toward the start of another week of potential disruption of work and school schedules on Monday. He asked local districts to find ways to reopen schools or locate alternative sites for instruction and utility companies to make restoration of power at gas stations a priority, so those with gas in the ground can pump it.
The state also directed county-election officials to allow voters displaced by the storm, as well as first responders, to vote by fax and email on Election Day.
In Little Ferry, the governor spoke near a trailer opened by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help residents and businesses file disaster-assistance claims. The agency has given out more than $107 million in relief payments since Hurricane Sandystruck, Administrator Craig Fugate said in an afternoon conference call.
FEMA also will provide temporary housing-assistance payments — normally reserved for victims whose homes are damaged — to people staying in hotels because they have no power or heat, it was announced.
The storm has left 22 dead in New Jersey and 47 in New York City, including at least two people whose bodies were found in their homes on Saturday as rescuers went house-to-house along the Jersey Shore’s barrier islands.
The Red Cross has mobilized its entire volunteer force to help with storm relief, and is providing food and logistics support as well as preparing for the arrival of another nor’easter, said Charley Shimanski, vice president of disaster services.
To be sure, signs of progress were evident: NJ Transit resumed service on four commuter train lines, including the Main/Port Jervis Line, where trains will originate and terminate in Secaucus. The Port of Elizabeth reopened to accept cargo ships. The Center for Food reopened four of its eight sites and distributed food to 60 hungry families.
And gas rationing helped to ease some tension at gas stations, though lines persisted.
On the first day of the new odd-even rotation, some drivers were confused about license plates that ended in letters, not numbers. Others were erroneously told to leave lines when the rules were misinterpreted.
“Some people were very upset,” said Jeanne Baratta, a county spokeswoman. “It’s the first day of this … I’m sure tomorrow will be a little better.”
There were those who, as they waited in line for gas or keeping warm at the Garden State Plaza, took the inconvenience in stride.
“We’re thankful,” said Brett Cullen, having a coffee with her husband while their Ridgefield Park home is without power. “Some other people on Staten Island lost their homes and small businesses.”
“Seeing what people are going through down on the shore and Staten Island, at least we didn’t have damage,” said Terry Schuber of Oradell.
A Ridgewood family booked two hotel rooms in advance, after having lost power in previous storms. A week into their stay, they don’t expect to return home until Nov. 15, said Hope Cunningham, lunching at the food court with her husband, four children and mother-in-law. They planned to volunteer at their church on Saturday night.
But for those without power, the question of the day was “when will my lights come on?”
More than 600,000 customers remained dark at 11 a.m. Saturday, PSE&G said, including 142,100 in Bergen County and 53,000 in Passaic County. And at the end of the day, the state’s largest utility could not provide updated numbers about whether it had met its expectations of restoring power in dozens of towns.
The governor requested the three major utilities based in the state to release short-term, town-by-town work restoration plans and post them on the state’s web site. PSE&G listed the towns in its service area and provided an estimate of when service would be restored over the next few days.
Residents “have demonstrated significant patience and resilience through the storm,” Christie said. “It is our obligation to get them back online with the certainty of a timeline.”
The push for transparency from the utilities was unprecedented, but it was not clear they could deliver.
PSE&G’s plan, for example, said that full power would be restored in Englewood, Fort Lee, Hackensack, Ridgewood and Teaneck, as well as Clifton, Paterson, Passaic and Wayne on Saturday.
But many residents in those towns were still in the dark, and local officials were skeptical, even if appreciative of the company’s efforts.
“I personally think it’s impossible,” said Clifton Mayor James Anzaldi. “I’ve seen some things go up in last 48 hours, but there are still a number of places without power. Drive through some sections and it’s dark.”
In Wayne, Mayor Christopher P. Vergano said “We still have four schools without power. Three nursing homes without power. And approximately 7,000 residents without power — about 30 percent of town.” More crews were seen working on Saturday, he said, but “I can only rate their performance [PSE&G] as poor right now.”
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said he wouldn’t bet on it, when asked about the projection that Fort Lee would have full power back by Saturday. “I just hope they’re doing everything humanly possible” to get electricity restored.
“They are really working to get the job done,” said Englewood Mayor Frank Huttle. “We should all pause and thank them for risking their lives and for the hard work they are doing. … I believe that a majority of our city will be restored in the next few days.”
PSE&G emphasized that the projections, which set out the work schedule through Monday, were a plan — not a promise. Unexpected issues could crop up to delay progress in individual towns, causing slippage for repairs planned to be completed on Sunday and Monday, said Paul Rosengren, a spokesman.
Worse off were people in towns where the utility’s work plans showed no crews have been assigned through Monday.
They included Wyckoff, where nearly 85 percent of the homes were without power, Bogota, Carlstadt, Closter, East Rutherford, Emerson, Englewood Cliffs, Haworth, Ho-Ho-Kus, Hillsdale, Leonia, Lyndhurst, Midland Park, Montvale, Moonachie, Old Tappan, Oradell, Ridgefield, River Vale, Rochelle Park, Rutherford, Saddle Brook, Saddle River, South Hackensack, Teterboro, Waldwick, Washington Township, Wood Ridge, and Woodcliff Lake, as well as Haledon, North Haledon, Prospect Park and Totowa.
“We’re waiting for the resources to come in and will assign them,” said Rosengren.
That wasn’t good enough for Pescatore, the Hillsdale father of four. Despite calls to the mayor, police and utilities, he said, “I’m not getting any answers here.”
Nor did it help the residents of a large senior citizen building in Washington Township. “We’ve had five really bad nights,” said Louise Mabli, 81. Some of the residents could walk to a nearby restaurant, but others are blind or in wheelchairs, she said. “We’re cold.” Power came back to her building, but not others in the complex, on Saturday night.
Orange and Rockland, which serves the northern part of both counties, was not asked to submit projections to the governor, said spokesman Mike Donovan. It still had 28,308 customers out in Bergen, about half of the total it serves, and 10,383 in Passaic, about 80 percent of its total. “We’ll have more and more of the information people are really looking for over the weekend,” he said.
Jersey Central Power & Light restored power to about 1,000 customers each in West Milford, Wanaque and Pompton Lakes on Saturday. Of its 15,400 customers in Passaic County, about 4,800 remained without power.
The governor told utilities to “throw away the playbook” to get power restored quickly, and met personally with the chief executives of each of the utility companies. “This is what we pay them for. We not only pay them to deliver electricity when the weather is good. We pay them to repair it when it’s bad and so we’re going to be on them.”
The largest mustering of out-of-state assistance from power companies in the state’s history was expected to bring 12,000 utility workers to New Jersey by today, including specialists in sub-station repair, as well as tree contractors and line repairmen. The logistics of housing and feeding them presented its own problems, which the National Guard was called upon to help address.
But representatives of the utilities said the scope of the disaster was unparalleled: the hurricane-force winds over a sustained period and the storm surge each, separately, caused as much or more destruction than Hurricane Irene, said Rosengren.
Power has been restored to 1.5 million of the 2.7 million people who lost it, they said. The stability of the transmission system has been restored, so that high-voltage lines can deliver the power — a necessary first step, the said.
JCP&L has removed or cut more than 21,000 trees already, said Ron Morando, a spokesman. The company must repair or replace nearly 600 downed poles, 2,700 spans of wire, and 220 transformers, he said.
“Electricity is dangerous and we can’t cut corners,” said Rosengren. “Our workers are working hard to get power back as quickly as possible.”
Staff Writers Sachi Fujimori, Denisa R. Superville, Herb Jackson, Michael Copley, Kim Lueddeke and Jeff Green contributed to this article, which contains material from The Associated Press.
When to expect power
Below is a town-by-town list of power restoration projections for PSE&G customers provided by the utility company at www.nj.gov Saturday.
“This is a plan,” said Paul Rosengren, a PSE&G spokesman. “If we don’t get everybody in Ridgewood back by tonight,” as the worksheet indicates, “it’s because there were obstructions, issues that weren’t expected, or we needed extra resources there.”
The three-day “workforce schedule” is not a guarantee, he said.
The schedule runs through Monday; towns serviced by PSE&G in the three counties that are not listed are “unassigned,” meaning that the date for restoration runs beyond Monday.
A list detailing the outage picture for JCP&L is also available on the state website, but it does not provide specific estimates of service restoration. Orange and Rockland Utilities said it was not asked to provide projections.
Englewood, Fort Lee, Hackensack, Ridgewood, Teaneck
Cliffside Park, Edgewater, Elmwood Park, Fair lawn, Garfield, Little Ferry, Palisades Park, Paramus, River Edge
Bergenfield, Dumont, Hasbrouck Heights, Lodi, Maywood, New Milford, Ridgefield Park, Rutherford, Tenafly, Wallington, Westwood
Clifton, Passaic, Paterson, Wayne
Repowering North Jersey
Here are the day-by-day totals of how many customers of Public Service Electric and Gas, Orange & Rockland Utilities, and Jersey Central Power & Light remain without power in Bergen and Passaic counties.
Thursday | Friday | Saturday
PSE&G 154,000 | 142,000 |142,000
O&R 42,561 | 36,000 |28,308
Thursday | Friday |Saturday
PSE&G 59,000 | 56,000 | 53,000
O&R 11,701 | 9,700 | 10,383
JCP&L 9,033 | 8,593 | 4,800
Note: JCP&L does not serve Bergen County.
Sources: PSE&G, O&R, JCP&L