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'Is This A Third-World Country?' County Officials Hammer Edison On Outages

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Southern California Edison on Tuesday defended charges of failing to efficiently restore power to customers in the wake of a devastating wind storm that has left thousands still in the dark.

"It's cold! It's colder in the house than it is outside," said Temple City resident Lynn Van Valkenburg.

With more than 6,000 residences and businesses still without electricity nearly five days after one of the worst wind storms in 30 years, a senior Edison executive told KNX 1070 that the utility will continue to do everything possible to restore power.


"We certainly understand the frustration of our customers, some of whom have experienced no service for over 4 and a half days now," said Edison Vice President Veronica Gutierrez. "We can tell you, however, that we are entirely committed to getting these lights back on."

Since the beginning of the storm last week, Gutierrez said 276 utility crews from as far as San Diego and Bakersfield have been "working on this nonstop day and night" to service 419,000 customers who have lost power.

Gutierrez also called the storm "unprecedented".

"I have spoken with 30-year employees who have never seen this level of damage," she said.

She cited a "very significant" amount of tree damage lining the streets of cities throughout the San Gabriel Valley that have hampered repair efforts.

County officials, however, were not impressed.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich accused Edison of bad planning and failing to keep customers properly informed of progress.

"You can talk to anybody on the street who's been impacted and they're saying 'Are we living in a third-world country or is this California?'," he said.

Antonovich said he's received dozens of calls from angry customers and he critic.

"You know, you had an exercise and you failed when we had the disaster. What do you do in the exercise? How do you evaluate the exercise? And how do you evaluate how we can do a better job than the previous exercise? Or is it coffee and donuts?" Anotonovich said.

Van Valkenburg said the supervisor's comments went too far.

"That's not fair. I mean these guys -- I sit here and watch how hard they work," she said.

Supervisor Don Knabe agreed with Gutierrez's assessment of the historic nature of the damage, but added that Edison still stumbled in the wake of the storm.

"Nothing like this has ever happened, but if you're prepared, if you let the people know, if you let the elected officials know, they can deal with that and help you with your own public relations problem," said Knabe.

"Now you've got a public relations nightmare," he added.

To report wind damage residents can call an L.A. County disaster hotline by dialing 211 or (800) 980-4990.


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