A week after storm, 230K still without power

Workers remove trees around downed lines in Simsbury, Conn., Friday, Nov. 4, 2011.
AP Photo/Jessica Hill

HARTFORD, Conn. - One week after an unusual October snowstorm slammed the Northeast and knocked out power to more than 3 million customers in several state, more than 215,000 customers in Connecticut are still without electricity and heat.

Nearly 15,000 customers are still without power in New Jersey.

Angry residents left without heat as temperatures drop to near freezing overnight have been lashing out at Connecticut Light & Power: accosting repair crews, making profane criticisms online, and suing.

In Simsbury, a hard-hit suburban town of about 25,000 residents, National Guard troops deployed to clear debris have been providing security outside a utility office building.

At a shelter at Simsbury High School, resident Stacy Niezabitowski, 53, said Friday she would love to yell at someone from CL&P but hadn't seen any of its workers.

"Everybody is looking for someplace to vent — not a scapegoat, just someplace to vent your anger so somebody will listen and do something," said Niezabitowski, who was having lunch at the shelter with her 21-year-old daughter. "Nobody is doing anything."

According to Connecticut Light & Power's website, there are more than 1,800 crews working to restore power to those hundreds of thousands of customers still in the dark.

The October nor'easter knocked out power to more than 3 million homes and businesses across the Northeast, including 830,000 in Connecticut, where outages now exceed those of all other states combined. CL&P called the snowstorm and resulting power outages "an historic event" and said it was focused on getting almost all power back on by Sunday night.

The company has blamed the extent of the devastation partly on overgrown trees in the state, where it says some homeowners and municipalities have resisted the pruning of limbs for reasons including aesthetics.

For some residents still dealing with outages, no excuse is acceptable.

In Avon, a Farmington Valley town where 85 percent of customers were still without power on Friday, town manager Brandon Robertson said he faulted CL&P for an "absolutely unacceptable and completely avoidable" situation. He said the high school that is being used as an emergency shelter was still running on a generator. Although public works crews had cleared most of the town roads, he said, more than 25 still were blocked as they waited for CL&P crews to clear power lines.

"Our residents are angry. We're angry," he said. "It's just really shocking."

An elderly woman rests on a cot at a shelter at Conard High School in West Hartford, Conn., Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011.
AP Photo/Jessica Hill

Gov. Dan Malloy said he has contracted with an outside firm to conduct an investigation into why CL&P and United Illuminating have taken so long to turn the lights back on.

CBS Station WCBS reports that in Danbury, public works crews put up signs Wednesday complaining about CL&P's slow response. Without the utility company's clearance, they were powerless to clear trees and downed wires.

The phone company is resorting to generating its own power.

Other state officials, including the Attorney General, have also called for an investigation into CL&P's progress, putting the utility on the defensive.

The person who has taken the brunt of the public scorn is CL&P's president and chief operating officer, Jeffrey D. Butler. He has been appearing with Gov. Malloy at daily news briefings, but he was left to face a grilling by the media on his own Thursday night when the governor left the room after criticizing the slow pace of power restoration.

Butler said he was sorry so many residents have been left without power for so long during the chilly nights. He said Friday that his own house in the Farmington Valley has been without power since a generator failed, and he urged customers to remember the extent of the damage.

"People need to keep in perspective the magnitude of damage," he said.

CL&P is holding firm on its promise to have 99 percent of the state restored by Sunday at midnight.

"It's really frustrating, when you're told one day - and now we're told next Wednesday - for a full restoration, when we were told tomorrow at midnight," said Newtown resident Lynn Kovak.

The outages have driven thousands of people into shelters in New England and have led to several deaths, including eight in Connecticut.

In North Brookfield, Mass., an 86-year-old woman was found dead Thursday in her unheated home, and her 59-year-old son was taken to a hospital with symptoms of hypothermia, subnormal body temperature. The local fire chief said it was unfortunate they had not reached out to authorities or neighbors for help.

In New Jersey, authorities said fumes from a gasoline-powered generator are believed to have caused the deaths of an elderly couple discovered hours before electricity was restored to their home in rural Milford, near Pennsylvania, on Thursday evening.

On Saturday PSE&G reported about 1,700 outages in N.J., the majority of those in Essex, Bergen and Passaic counties.

JCP&L is reporting about 13,000 New Jersey customers still in the dark. They hope to have power restored to most of those customers by midnight Saturday, but said it may be later this weekend for those in Morris, Sussex and Warren counties.