Irene Brings Power Outage Purgatory

Dan Sullivan of Medford, left, posed with three Oklahomans who came along with a crew from Joplin, Mo., to help — Denny Tuthill of Tulsa, Ralph Mitchell of Chelsea, and Kenny Owens of Vinita. Bridget LeRoy

    Electricity outages caused by Tropical Storm Irene have stretched for four days now, with thousands in East Hampton and across Long Island without power.
    Power will be restored to 90 percent of the customers without it by late tomorrow, Long Island Power Authority officials promised at a press conference on Tuesday. “Localized outages” might extend into the weekend, they said.
    Mike Hervey, LIPA’s chief operating officer, said damage to more than 3,000 “significant locations” from downed poles, wires, trees, and flooding resulted in 523,000 LIPA customers losing power during the storm. Power to just under half had been restored as of Tuesday morning.
    In East Hampton Town, outages persisted yesterday in Springs and East Hampton Village; portions of Amagansett saw power restored Tuesday afternoon.
    The storm was the second most significantly damaging event faced by the power authority or its predecessor, the Long Island Lighting Company, since Hurricane Gloria in 1985, Mr. Hervey said, and caused “quite a lot of damage.” Following Hurricane Gloria, some East Hampton residents did not have power for several weeks.
    “We do have to rebuild the system from the substation out,” Mr. Hervey said. “We are going as quickly as possible. We continue to ask for our customers’ patience, and we understand your frustration,” he said Tuesday.
    LIPA had received 575,000 calls in the early days of this week and began on Tuesday and yesterday to respond to individual inquiries by customers. The authority had 6,400 personnel on the ground on Tuesday and had requested an additional 1,200 “high-voltage linemen” to assist.
    Also, Mr. Hervey said, “there is a massive tree-trimming effort going on,” and more tree-trimming crews were expected to arrive yesterday and today.
    Roger Elliott of Montauk is heading up a crew for LIPA and worked with some of the men who came from the Midwest to help.
    “I’ve got a cute story,” Mr. Elliott said. “Two of the guys on the tree crew are from Kansas; they’ve never seen the ocean before. Older guys, too. As soon as they got out to Montauk, they just walked right down to the beach. Just stood there, with this expression on their faces. They each took some sand as a souvenir to bring home.”
    BBC Electrical Services, stationed in Galena, Kan., and Joplin, Mo., sent crews of about 200 workers to the area.
    “We left on Thursday,” said Denny Tuthill, a general foreman out of Tulsa, Okla. The crews drove 10 to 12 hours a day and reached Southampton as the storm began to hit. They have been bunking in the dorms at Stony Brook Southampton since then.
    This is not Mr. Tuthill’s first run-in with the forces of nature — he was an eyewitness to the devastation in Joplin in May, caused by one of the deadliest storms ever to hit the United States. “It was terrible,” he said.
    While here, Mr. Tuthill and his immediate crew — Ralph Mitchell of Chelsea, Okla., and Kenny Owens of Vinita, Okla. — accompanied by Dan Sullivan of Medford have been working at least 16-hour days to cut down trees resting on houses and electrical wires.
    Mr. Hervey said Tuesday that all of Long Island’s hospitals had had power restored and that nursing homes were next on the list. He said towns and villages had been asked to provide, through the Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management, a list of prioritized power needs, such as water or sewer systems, or traffic lights at the most critical intersections. Power at all but one of the Long Island Rail Road’s crossing gates was back up, he said.
    Beyond that, he said, LIPA was not putting priority on commercial versus residential customers, or those with private wells that rely on electricity versus those connected to public water mains. Nor was it considering geographical or economic factors, such as the desire of East End businesses to get back up and running to reap the benefits of Labor Day weekend commerce.
    “No one area of the Island gets preferential treatment,” Mr. Hervey said. However, he said, the coming Labor Day weekend “makes us redouble our efforts to stick to the schedule we just mentioned.”
    Public officials have urged LIPA to step up its efforts. In a release issued Monday, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said that with 10,000 Southampton residents without power, “the idea that it might take another four or five days is unacceptable — there is simply too much at stake for our resort economy.”
    “With Labor Day approaching and so many of our merchants relying on at least one more busy week, the local economy will suffer yet another major setback if power is not restored and businesses cannot open,” Ms. Throne-Holst said.
    In East Hampton, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said that he had been working closely with LIPA crew leaders. “I know the crews on the ground are working feverishly,” he said. But, he said, “Do I know they have sent enough crews? I can’t say.” He said the town was “very fortunate” to have a designated staging area for the crews at East Hampton Airport.
    Early in the week, State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle taped and posted a YouTube video in which he said, “LIPA gets an F.” By yesterday, he seemed to have backed away from such a harsh criticism and issued a statement thanking LIPA workers for their “tireless efforts to get power restored.”
    Both Mr. LaValle and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. had contacted Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office in an effort to put pressure on LIPA to work harder.
    “It’s a bad economy,” Mr. Thiele said yesterday. “We lost one weekend.”
    “I certainly was left with the impression that they were sympathetic,” he said of the response of the governor’s office, adding that Governor Cuomo had been in touch with LIPA authorities. “How that translates, we’ll see,” the assemblyman said. “It’s a matter of devoting the resources.”
    “Always one of my concerns is that the East End . . . sometimes gets left behind.” He said he was reluctant to “jump all over” the utility, but that their communication with the public in the face of outages “certainly will need improvement in the future.” But, he said, “At this point, it’s really about getting the power on.”
With Reporting by Bridget LeRoy