Slow Sandy response leaves Long Islanders fuming

About 19,000 customers with New York's Long Island Power Authority are still in the dark more than two weeks after superstorm Sandy, and residents are fuming.

19,000 customers still waiting for Long Island Power Authority to restore electricity

Resident Daniel Quarles warms himself at his stove on Friday in the Red Hook Houses in the Brooklyn Borough of New York, where residents remain without heat or electricity some two weeks after superstorm Sandy. (Keith Bedford/Reuters)

Priscilla Niemiera has a message for officials at the Long Island Power Authority, which has yet to restore power to the Seaford, N.Y., resident and tens of thousands of other customers following superstorm Sandy.

"I'd tell them, 'Get off your rear end and do your job,'" the 68-year-old said.

Well, at least that is what she would say if she could get in touch with anyone at the authority. Over the last two weeks, since the electricity in her home went out, "every time I called, they hung up on me."

While most utilities have restored electricity to nearly all their customers, LIPA still had about 19,000 customers in the dark Tuesday morning.

Retiree says utility's system is 'antiquated'

The company said that the storm was worse than anyone could have imagined and that it didn't just damage outdoor electrical lines; it caused flooding that touched home and business breaker boxes. It acknowledged that an outdated computer system for keeping customers notified has added to people's frustration.

But some say the government-run utility should have seen it coming. It was recently criticized in a withering state report for lax preparation ahead of last year's Hurricane Irene, and for the 25-year-old computer system used to pinpoint outages and update customers.

"It's antiquated. I think they're negligent," said Phil Glickman, a retired Wall Street executive from South Bellmore who waited 11 days to get electricity back.

A plea to the Long Island Power Authority for electricity to be restored is posted on a barrier Oct. 31, in Mastic Beach, N.Y. The south shore Long Island community was among the hardest hit by superstorm Sandy. (Frank Eltman/Associated Press)

LIPA has restored power to more than 1.1 million homes and offices. About 19,000 customers were still waiting for the lights to come back early Tuesday.

The utility says there are also some people along Long Island's south shore and Rockaway Peninsula that had water damage to electrical panels and wiring, so their service can't be restored without an inspection and possibly repairs.

At its peak, the storm knocked out power to 8.5 million customers in 10 states, with New York and New Jersey bearing the brunt. Those outages have been nearly erased, though Consolidated Edison, the chief utility in New York City, has cited problems similar to LIPA's, saying about 16,300 customers in flooded areas of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island can't get service until their internal electrical equipment is repaired, tested and certified.

Niemiera, whose finished basement in Seaford flooded, said her house needs to be inspected and she can't get any answers.

"I think LIPA should be broken up into small companies and it shouldn't be a monopoly anymore because this is every single time we have a disaster. And then they raise the rates. We're paying very high rates. We're paying high taxes, high electric. Everything," she said.

Governor criticizes utilities' response

LIPA, whose board is chosen by the governor and lawmakers, contracts with National Grid for service and maintenance. Last year, its board chose a new contractor, New Jersey's Public Service Enterprise Group, which will take over in 2014.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo criticized the storm response of all New York utilities in the region, saying their management had failed consumers.

People throw away debris from a home damaged by Sandy on Saturday on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

Asked Monday about LIPA board vacancies he hasn't filled and whether he takes responsibility for what's happening there, Cuomo called the authority a holding company that became "an intergovernmental political organization." He said National Grid was the actual Long Island power provider, one of the monopolistic state-regulated utilities.

"They're going to be held accountable," he said, citing lack of communication and preparation and even proposing they consider rebates instead of rate hikes.

Problems showed after Hurricane Irene

A state report criticized LIPA in June for poor customer communications after Irene last year and for insufficient tree trimming. The Department of Public Service noted major problems in telling customers estimated power-restoration times, faulting its computer system, which a consultant had found deficient back in 2006.

LIPA acknowledged that customers aren't getting the information they need, partly because of the system, which it is updating. Authority officials said the new system will be operating next year.

"It is a huge computer system. After Irene, we immediately accelerated that process, and even at that it is still an 18-month to two-year process," LIPA's chief operating officer, Michael Hervey, said Monday. "We would have liked to have had it up and running for now, but it's just such a large magnitude computer system that it takes that long."

Hervey said the company will be working with remaining customers over the next several weeks as they get their homes repaired.

"They can't be safely re-energized from an electrical standpoint," he said. "We are ready to service those areas, but they are not ready to take it right now."

John Bruckner, president of National Grid Long Island transmission and distribution, said he had about 15,000 people, including 6,400 linemen from all over the U.S. and Canada, working on restoration, .