NEW YORK – With thousands of city residents facing their second week without power, some political leaders turned their focus to the utility they said was at fault in the outage, calling for Consolidated Edison to make restitution to residents and arguing utility officials should face consequences.
"When the lights went out, that was just the tip of the iceberg," City Councilman Eric Gioia, D-Queens, told The Associated Press Sunday. "Since then, Con Ed has misled the public about the severity of the situation, failed to grasp that we are in a crisis and shown no plan to put the power back on and ensure the health and safety of people in Queens."
Gioia argued that Con Ed CEO Kevin Burke should resign over his handling of the Queens blackout, which at its height affected an estimated 100,000 people.
Asked to respond to the criticism later Sunday, Burke said, "I am now focused exclusively on restoration." By Monday morning, electricity had been restored to 22,000 of the estimated 25,000 Con Ed customers who lost power during last week's heat wave, a company spokeswoman said.
Burke said the causes of the blackout would be investigated later.
When a group of Queens political leaders urged Gov. George Pataki Sunday to designate the zone without power a disaster area, making it eligible for federal aid, a spokeswoman for the governor said the utility should be financially responsible.
"We believe that it is (utility Consolidated Edison) that should make restitution to those who have suffered," said spokeswoman Joanna Rose, who said the governor had spoken with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and had offered any assistance necessary.
Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., argued Pataki should make the designation. "If this were an area of 100,000 people in upstate New York, the governor would have declared it a disaster area," he said.
State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, said Con Ed officials should be held criminally responsible because their early underestimates of the number of people affected by the blackout may have slowed the city's response.
"How can anyone believe anything Con Ed says?" he demanded. "I think what they did was criminal, and I hope to see some people who work at Con Ed in handcuffs before this is over."
Bloomberg said the focus for now should be on getting the power back rather than Con Ed diverting resources to figure out what happened. That should be left for later, he said, adding, "Whether it was something that could have been prevented, I have no idea."
He said Con Ed promised a report within two weeks.
"Are we satisfied with the progress?" he asked. "It is what it is."
Bloomberg estimated about 100,000 people were affected at the peak of the blackouts. A Con Ed customer could be a single-family home, a house sectioned into multiple units or even an entire apartment building.
Burke said there was no way to estimate how long those still affected would be without power.
The family of one Queens resident blamed his death on his inability to stay cool without power, according to published reports. But a spokeswoman for the chief medical examiner's office said that Andres Rodrigues' death on Friday was apparently natural and caused by preexisting health conditions.
Speaking to reporters at an Office of Emergency Management staging site in Astoria, Bloomberg urged local residents to put aside their frustrations over the weeklong power failure and thank the workers trying to correct it.
"The Con Ed workers are working an enormous number of hours. I don't think anyone should be satisfied, but the city's response has been as good as it could be," he said.
Along Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, some businesses had lights while others didn't.
There was no electricity at Queens Mini Market, where employee Vijoy Pal estimated losses so far at $5,000. "We are losing, losing," he said.
Bliss Nail Salon had lights but was stuffy with no air conditioning. "I don't know why," said manager Amy Chung. "It's one week already. We lose a lot of customers."
Bloomberg said there was still no indication when all power would be re-established or why the Queens area suffered the massive blackout while the rest of the city did not.
Con Ed earlier described the situation as unprecedented, with 10 of 22 main power feeders breaking down at the same time, at the height of the heat wave. The problem worsened when lower-voltage cables were apparently damaged by carrying excess voltage as Con Ed tried to keep the system up and running without the main feeders.
There has been no significant increase in crime during the blackout, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said. One burglary was reported overnight and area calls to 911 were at the same level as a year ago, he said, adding that 700 police officers had been added to patrols there.
City officials said that small businesses could apply to be reimbursed for up to $7,000 in perishable losses and that an emergency loan fund would be announced within a few days. They said that nine senior citizen centers with air conditioning and meals that are usually closed weekends would remain open Sunday and that no price gouging had been reported.
The Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other relief agencies served 20,000 meals on Saturday and planned to serve 22,000 on Sunday, said Red Cross official Scott Graham.