With no power, 120,000 struggle in a ‘nightmare’ a week after storm
By Mihir Zaveru and Nate Schweber
After Darren Demeterio was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer last year, a scan in June detected a new cancerous spot on his liver. His doctor told him to eat healthily and stay positive.
But right now it’s hard for him to do either: Since Tropical Storm Isaias battered the New York region, he has been without power for nearly a week at his suburban home.
There is no electricity to refrigerate fruits, vegetables, fish or chicken, so his wife has taken trips to the grocery store every day. With temperatures rising, and no way to keep cool, Demeterio, 49, is scared.
“The last week has been such a nightmare you can’t get away from,” said Demeterio, who lives in Tarrytown, about 25 miles north of Manhattan. “Normally for me, you keep yourself occupied so you’re not thinking negatively. Unfortunately, there’s no way around that now.”
Though the storm that tore through the Northeast is long gone, the anger and anxiety endured for some 90,000 customers, mostly in New York and Connecticut, who remained without electricity, according to tallies from utility companies.
Thousands of crews called in from around the country are scrambling to restore power. But they are being stymied by trees blocking roads and damage to buildings that makes repair work unsafe.
With temperatures expected to exceed 90 degrees in many parts of the region this week, the outages are now prompting fears about the safety of older people and other vulnerable residents, who are having trouble escaping the heat and keeping medication cool and medical devices running.
“This is now a week out and we are still struggling with the same issues that we were dealing with last Wednesday,” said Mark D. Boughton, the mayor of Danbury, Connecticut, where some 30 streets were still blocked by downed wires and trees and about 15,000 people were without power, he said. “It’s incredibly frustrating.”
In New Jersey, originally one of the states hit hardest by outages, power was mostly restored by Monday. But in New York and Connecticut, whole streets remained in the dark, and utility companies drew the ire of residents and elected officials.
In Connecticut, where 65,000 customers of Eversource, the main power supplier, still had no power Monday, state officials said they would investigate utilities’ preparations and accused Eversource of dramatically underestimating the storm’s severity.
In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has also called for an investigation into the utilities, a move he has made in the past after natural disasters and blackouts.
Cuomo said Monday that depending on the findings of the investigation, utilities could face a host of consequences, including the revocation of their ability to do business in the state.
“They can require fines, penalties, restitution, and I want the utilities to know that we do not abide by the concept in New York that anything is too big to fail,” Cuomo said. “Your franchise can be revoked. I am not bluffing.”
Some outages could continue into the middle of the week, utilities said.
Mitch Gross, a spokesman for Eversource, said that the “vast majority” of Eversource customers in Connecticut should have their power restored before midnight Tuesday.
He rejected the idea that Eversource was not ready for the storm, saying that the company had prepared based on weather forecasts and positioned repair crews and equipment around the state.
He said the forecast for Isaias changed as the storm approached.
“Storms change track, strength,” he said. “It changed, and you have to be flexible, you have to adapt, and that’s what we did. We immediately began securing additional help.”
Con Edison reported more than 12,200 customers out of power in New York on Monday evening, including 9,700 in Westchester and 1,800 in Queens. The company said in a statement that it was “completely focused on restoring power as safely and quickly as possible to every customer.”
“After every major event we perform a thorough analysis of what can be improved, and we’ll do the same following the second worst storm in the history of our service territory,” the statement said.
East of the city, PSEG Long Island said that around 13,000 of its nearly 1.2 million customers were still without power as of just before 5 p.m. Monday.
In Danbury, at Glen Apartments, a public housing complex where around 100 older and disabled residents live, Tim Hinckley sat in the shade in his wheelchair as he watched crews work on power lines on the street. Behind him were toppled trees.
Power had been restored to about half of the complex Monday morning, but not for Hinckley.
“In my sweatbox, you can’t breathe, that’s how hot it is in there,” Hinckley, 54, said gesturing toward his apartment. “It’s been hell.”
Hinckley finally got a few hours of rest Sunday night by moving to a community center in the apartment complex, where a generator was able to power his air mattress. But there was no power to save $200 worth of groceries in his refrigerator.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said.
His neighbor, Marilyn Andujar, said she had no way to plug in the medical devices she needed to care for her husband, Ramon Montero, who has throat cancer. One device lubricates his throat, making it possible for him to breathe; the other is a blender, which allows him to eat.
“He’s suffocating,” Andujar, 64, said from her doorway while Montero, 74, sat in the shade holding a handkerchief over the hole in his trachea. “This is not so good.”
Robin Murena, 44, of Bethel, a town next to Danbury, said she lost power last Tuesday. Because of the pandemic, she had been stocking up her refrigerator with vegetables from her garden, but everything spoiled.
Murena, who works at a cosmetic store at a mall, has used power outlets there to keep her devices charged.
Throughout the Danbury area, trees still littered roads, and some residents whose power had been restored left power strips in their driveways for others to use. Streetlights were out, making driving through intersections tricky.
Murena said that even during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, she only lost power for three or four days.
“I haven’t had to navigate a week without power,” she said.
On Monday, as the temperature rose, she set out to the waterfront at Sherwood Island State Park to keep cool.
“Right now, it’s just a waiting game,” she said. “Now that we’re hitting a heat wave, the big concern is no air conditioning.”
She said the power is supposed to be restored by Tuesday evening, but she has not seen any utility crews near her house.
Demeterio, in Tarrytown, said Con Edison has repeatedly told him over the past two days that his power would be back, but crews have come out and driven away again.
“I don’t know what to do anymore,” he said.