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Utilities in Northeast brace for hurricane damage

Big waves caused by hurricane Sandy along the south coast of Santo Domingo on October 24, 2012.

Last year, the Northeast was hammered by Hurricane Irene and the Halloween snowstorm Alfred. Both storms knocked out power to millions and utility companies were left with an enormous and costly mess. Now, with the latest extreme weather event, Hurricane Sandy -- or Frankenstorm, depending on preference -- hovering ominously on the horizon, utilities are preparing for what promises to be some seriously bad weather weekend.

Karen Johnson, a spokesperson for PSEG, power provider to the Garden State, says even the public relations team at the utility is slammed just trying to field all the interview requests.

“I can’t keep track, at this point,” she said.

Last year the duo of Alfred and Irene cost the utility over $1 billion in repairs and new equipment. So Johnson says to prepare for Sandy, PSEG is turning its eye skyward. Sort of.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the trees that were planted many, many years ago, are not compatible with power lines,” she said. Which is why this year PSEG has spent about $28 million just on trimming branches.

Connecticut Light & Power passed on an interview, so instead I spoke with Christine Chirdon a Farmington, Conn., resident who knows all about trees. During winter storm Alfred, a branch fell on her car, and the storm left Chirdon and her husband without power for 11 days.

Chirdon says she and her husband lost all the food in their refrigerator and their big freezer. Their insurance company did reimburse them $1,000, but it wasn’t enough to cover the cost of 50 pounds of venison her husband, a hunter, was storing. So to prepare for Sandy, Chirdon says they’re living light.

“We are not filling up our freezer. We are not filling up our refrigerator. We’re going to live with what we have here,” she says.

But sometimes you do have to get extra support. To help fight the Frankenstorm, both New York City’s Con Edison and New Jersey’s PSEG are bringing in repair crews from out of state.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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