Newsday: As LI outages persist, anxiety rises
Newsday — By Emily Ngo
Hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders — and others throughout the metropolitan area — without electricity, heat and hot water face new challenges from winterlike temperatures and an approaching Atlantic storm.
With the workweek beginning Monday and elections taking place Tuesday, officials tried to reassure residents that relief after superstorm Sandy was in sight.
But they warned that the cold presents a new hazard. Temperatures are forecast in the low 30s overnight for the next few days.
"People are living in homes that are uninhabitable," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at a news conference Sunday in Manhattan. "That will become increasingly clear as the temperatures drop. Tens of thousands of people are going to need housing solutions right away."
Residents with already frayed nerves and rising anxiety over gasoline shortages, power outages and transportation limitations feared the little progress being made would stall as a nor'easter threatens the already ravaged area.
"I'm scared," said Jessica Becker, 18, of Old Bethpage, who was cooking meals for neighbors on a propane grill along with her mother.
Power in their neighborhood remained out Sunday. "I'm just hoping with the next storm coming, we're not going to lose anything else," Becker said.
Signs of recovery grew in fits and starts:
Power was restored to more than 100,000 LIPA customers Sunday, but federal, state and county officials continued to lash out at the company.
Some school districts will open while others are to stay closed.
Some subway service expanded. LIRR operations remained limited as the damage was assessed.
Cuomo announced five tractor-trailers of food, toys and cleaning supplies from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and PepsiCo will be distributed by the National Guard, but residents of hard-hit Staten Island claimed they were being ignored again.
FEMA officials said the agency would provide transitional housing to people who could not return to their homes.
As of Sunday morning, about 164,000 New York, Connecticut and New Jersey residents had applied for aid and the agency had approved about $137 million in rental assistance and other types of financial help.
In southern Lindenhurst — one of the hardest hit areas — some residents who said they had to raft down the flooded streets after the storm now face a new reality.
"No hot water, no heat, no stove, no anything," said Carol Suggett, 49.
Neighbor Dianna Morales, 43, said her solution to the cold has been "body heat." Morales, her two children and their dog have been sleeping in the same bed to keep warm, she said.
"Nassau has twice the problem anyone else has," Cuomo said. Last night, LIPA reported about 280,000 Long Island customers without power, down from the 945,000 without electricity immediately after the storm.
Mangano and King last night demanded that LIPA improve its communications with residents. "LIPA's failure to keep customers informed of the latest information on conditions and improvements is simply unacceptable," they said in a statement.
LIPA chief executive Michael Hervey, in an interview Sunday on WFAN radio, said Nassau's high rate of outages was due to the density of trees and its large population.
He pledged to have most of those without power restored by Wednesday night, but added some areas would take longer.
"There are about 50,000 in Nassau that ultimately may not be able to take service because their homes are damaged beyond the ability to take electrical service," he said.
And portions of Brookville, Port Jefferson and St. James could be in for long delays in getting power back because of extensive destruction from fallen trees.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned that in some shoreline areas, it could be a long time until electricity is restored.
"Along the coast, the infrastructure is gone," he said. "There are certain places where the power is not going to be on for a very long time."
The governor acknowledged that for those without power, the progress in repairs is little comfort.
"I understand all the numbers are nice, but they mean nothing until the power is on in your house," Cuomo said, reiterating that he is going to hold the utilities "accountable for their performance here 100 percent."
In Lawrence, nearly all the residents were without power and some had sewage in their basements after Sandy shut down a treatment plant, Mayor Martin Oliner said.
"They're cold. They have children. Tempers are on end," he said. "There's no real reason in our case that we can't have electricity."
Those who did leave their homes found more gas stations open, but still had to wait an hour or longer in lines that were unthinkable a week ago.
Appeal for patience
Barges had docked, pipelines were up and running and fuel would be making its way through the system more quickly, Cuomo said.
"Patience is required, as well as understanding and a little prudence," he said. "Now is not the time to be hoarding fuel. That's increasing the demand now."
Individual recovery efforts generated positive attitudes, residents said. Community ties were strengthened; neighbors helped neighbors.
"If it weren't for these people, we'd never make it through this," Dawn Black, 41, said of sharing water pumps, power generators and food with her Lindenhurst neighbors.