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Connecticut mayor claims state's largest city 'shortchanged' by utility company in wake of Sandy

 

The mayor of Connecticut's largest city expressed frustration over what he says is another example of the city being "shortchanged" following the massive power outages caused by Sandy.  

Bridgeport -- the state's most populous city -- saw a 9-foot storm surge after so-called superstorm Sandy pummeled the East Coast earlier this week, leaving an estimated 8.2 million customers without power.

While utility crews throughout the state scrambled to assess the damage and restore power, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch accused United Illuminating of poorly serving the city. Finch said Bridgeport has the largest number of United Illuminating ratepayers and should be treated better by the New Haven-based utility.

"I am very frustrated," Finch reportedly said during a press briefing Wednesday. "We do not believe that Bridgeport is getting its fair share of attention."

"I'm sick and tired of Bridgeport being shortchanged," he said, suggesting that the utility company was unfairly focusing its attention on the wealthy suburbs outside the city.

The Connecticut Post reported that instead of going down, outage numbers in Bridgeport began rising late Tuesday and fell again on Wednesday night, dropping to 27,000 without power. By Thursday morning, the number of Bridgeport customers without electricity was 27,704.

But Michael West, a spokesman for United Illuminating, called Finch's claim "baseless."

"We don’t pick winners or losers," West told FoxNews.com. "Our job is to restore everybody. The claim that we are identifying one city over another is just not the case."

In Connecticut, which had 374,000 customers left in the dark, the first priority for utility companies was to clear safety hazards, such as fallen trees and downed power lines, while conducting damage assessment and working to restore power to hospitals and police and fire stations. Executives from the state's two major electric utility companies announced Wednesday -- two full days after the storm hit -- that the focus would shift Thursday to restoring power to the masses.

"The first priority was 'make safe and cut clear'" West said. "As of today, we’ve completed a vast majority of that damage assessment ...Without the damage assessment, you really don’t know what the work is."

The state's governor, Dannel P. Malloy, acknowledged general frustration with the outages on Wednesday, telling reporters, "People who don't have power are beginning to lose their patience."

"Trust me, I get it," he said. "Let's wait and see what [utility officials] say ... And then please know that I'll do my best to hold them accountable to the people of Connecticut."

Sandy struck states from North Carolina to Maine on Monday and Tuesday, leaving an estimated 8.2 million customers without power across 20 states.

Devastation from the storm doubled -- possibly even tripled -- that caused by Irene, which hit the East Coast in August 2011 as a powerful tropical storm, knocking out power to 8.4 million customers in 13 states.

While tensions mounted over the outages, utility companies appeared better equipped at restoring to the mass power outages when compared to Irene.

For example, West said that UI had 800 personnel on the ground before Sandy even hit the East Coast. During Irene, only 700 personnel were deployed during the peak of the storm, West said.   

In New Jersey, meanwhile, the state's utilities say 1.8 million homes and businesses are still without power. Public Service Electric & Gas said it could be a week to 10 days before it restores all power to nearly all its customers. Jersey Central Power & Light estimates most of its customers will have power back within a week. It may take two weeks for some in the hardest hit areas.

In New York City, Con Edison said it has restored power to more than 225,000 customers since the storm ended. As of early Thursday morning, it says 676,000 customers remain without power. That includes 227,000 customers in Manhattan, 103,000 in Queens, 59,000 in Brooklyn, 83,000 on Staten Island and 36,000 in the Bronx.

FoxNews.com's Cristina Corbin and the Associated Press contributed to this report. 

 

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