Susan and Gus Papadimas usually walk their dog in a park five blocks from their home. But since Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast three weeks ago, they’ve been visiting the same park to pick up warm meals from a temporary Red Cross station.
“We lost the whole first floor of our house,” says Susan. “We’ve been living in the cold on the second story,” says Gus.
The Papadimases now have power back on the second floor of their house in Seaford, Long Island. But they were completely in the dark for two weeks after Sandy, as were many of the 1.1 million Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) account holders hit by storm outages. Before the electricity was restored, the couple says they saw a National Grid crew just standing around on their street.
“So we said, ‘Hey are we getting power?’” Susan recalls. “Well, the story was, ‘You could have gotten power last night. We’re waiting for LIPA to give the OK.’”
LIPA is the only public utility in the country that contracts out its day-to-day operations to a for-profit company, National Grid, says Dr. Matthew Cordaro, Chairman of the LIPA Oversight Committee for the Suffolk County Legislature.
“You have to recognize, LIPA, in of itself, is a strange animal,” Cordaro says. “The result is a severe problem in coordination and communication between the two entities.”
But its structure isn’t LIPA’s only issue. According to Cordaro, LIPA has a slew of long-known problems from out-of-date software to track power outages to poor communication with customers. At a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Garden City, Long Island, a commercial fisherman named Sean, who declined to give his last name, said a utility worker told him he’d have to hire an electrician to inspect his home before the power could be restored.
“He’s like you got to get an electrician in to approve that you can turn the main breaker back on,” he said, adding that flood waters had submerged the electrical box in his basement.
Neither LIPA nor National Grid responded to requests for interviews and information for this story. However, LIPA’s website states that outside inspections are an option for people who don’t want to wait for their crews, but they are not required.
Though Sean’s house is cold, he has bronchitis, and he’s been eating MREs from FEMA — the “meals ready to eat” that the military gives soldiers at war — he’s says he’s not angry with LIPA.
“It’s a disaster, so I’m not sure anyone was truly prepared for it,” Sean says. “I am sure they’re doing what they can.”
Others aren’t so sympathetic. Both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have launched inquiries into how LIPA and other area utilities handled the storm.