NEW YORK – Even as the lights came on for many who lost power in New York and New Jersey during the superstorm and a later nor'easter, hundreds of residents protested Saturday outside a Long Island utility, frustrated by its slow response to outages.
Power restoration has been slower there than in other areas hit by Superstorm Sandy, sparking criticism of the Long Island Power Authority. Some of the 130,000 blacked out homes and businesses the utility serves may not have power restored until the end of Tuesday, according to LIPA.
In the rest of the region hardest hit by the storm, most service was expected to be restored by the end of the weekend, though that doesn't include tens of thousands of homes too damaged to juice up.
"We are sitting in a cold house. No one comes by," said John Mangin of Levittown, N.Y. "There should be criminal charges against the CEO and the executive board of LIPA for failure to do their jobs."
He was among about 300 people staging a rally in front of LIPA's office in Hicksville, N.Y. Not all were without power, but some who have power said they were there to protest LIPA's lack of communication.
LIPA Chief Operating Officer Michael Hervey said the utility was aware that customers haven't gotten the information they've needed from it, partly because of an outdated information technology system it's in the process of updating.
"I certainly feel the frustration of customers whose power remains out. Our hearts go out to them," Hervey said.
But he said workers are repairing unprecedented storm damage as fast as they can. About 6,400 linemen and 3,700 tree trimmers are at work, compared with 200 linemen on a normal day.
In Suffolk County, where about 28,000 customers remain without power, County Executive Steven Bellone announced he was cutting ties with LIPA and would deal directly with substation coordinators.
Hervey said he would not comment on that directly, but added that an ad hoc takeover of the system would lead to anarchy.
"The utility is the best suited to restore power and manage that," he said. "We can't have people step in and take over."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for an investigation of the region's utilities, criticizing them as unprepared and badly managed. On Friday, two congressmen from Long Island called for the federal government to help LIPA restore electricity.
"It's a totally disorganized effort, and LIPA unfortunately seems to have lost control of the situation and that's why you see so many people becoming so angry," Rep. Peter King said Saturday.
In New York City and neighboring suburban Westchester County, utility Con Edison said about 11,400 customers remained powerless, down from a peak of more than 1 million. The number of remaining outages doesn't include about 30,000 Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island homes and businesses that the utility says are too damaged to receive power for now.
In New Jersey, fewer than 85,000 customers were without power Saturday, most along the coast. That was down from 2.7 million at the height of the storm. Most were expected to have power by the end of the weekend.