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Power losses cripple Queens

A pedestrian walks along a darkened Rockaway Beach Boulevard as the peninsula remained without power. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

A week after Superstorm Sandy plunged much of Queens into darkness, Con Edison and the Long Island Power Authority were estimating it could take another week to return power to thousands of customers in the borough, drawing scorn from places both high and low.

As of Monday, Con Ed had projected it would restore electricity to nearly 33,000 Queens customers still in the dark by Nov 11. By Tuesday, the figure was around 26,000.

The outages on mainland Queens were mostly due to falling trees and downed power lines, and Con Ed said recovery would hinge mostly on how quickly the city Parks Department could clear downed trees.

On the Rockaway Peninsula, where many buildings in low-lying areas were damaged by flooding, it was a bit of a different story.

A spokesman for LIPA, which serves the entire peninsula, said the power utility’s four substations were damaged by floodwaters, as was the infrastructure that fed power from those stations to nearly 40,000 customers in Rockaway neighborhoods.

The first step to restoring power was rehabilitating the substations and the infrastructure.

“What we’re saying is as a rough timetable in the next few days those substations will be ready,” said spokesman Bob Kascak. “By the end of the week the infrastructure should be in pretty good shape to start energizing customers.”

Kascak said LIPA would begin restoring power along Beach Channel Drive, and from there branch off to feed electricity to each customer one at a time, though before power could be fed to those customers each building would have to be inspected to ensure it was safe to do so.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city would have to go door-to-door at damaged buildings to make sure turning on the power would not create any further problems.

“One of the great fears we have is if Con Ed turns on the power or LIPA turns on the power on your block, if there has been damage to some of the electrical circuits in some of the houses, you can have a real fire very quickly,” he said. “So until we go into every house and check they can’t turn on the power on the street.”

The city Department of Buildings was also going door-to-door and marking homes with either a red placard, indicating it was unsafe to enter, a yellow placard meaning there were entry limitations, or a green one indicating no restrictions.

After a building was deemed safe, the owner would have to have a licensed electrician come in and certify it would be safe to hook power up.

The lengthy response had drawn heated criticism from Queens elected officials as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“You walk around Manhattan and it seems like the storm has passed and everything is just about fine,” he said. “But this is the exception, this is not the rule .... You go to the Rockaways where I was last night, it’s terrible.”

Cuomo said he would consider revoking the utilities’ franchises if they were found to have not adequately handled the recovery.

“The utilities ... were not created in the Bible. They’re not in the Old Testament. They’re not in the New Testament,” he said. “God never said New York shall have these utilities forever and Con Ed is the utility and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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