MELVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Power problems are plaguing Long Island following Tropical Storm Isaias.
Together, Nassau and Suffolk counties had more than 300,000 outages late Wednesday morning. That’s almost a third of all PSEG LI customers. Perhaps that’s understandable, officials said, given the storm’s powerful winds, but what’s not understandable, customers and officials said, is the break down in communication, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.
Wind gusts up to 80 mph ripped trees out of sidewalks, decimated backyards and swimming pools, and toppled hundreds of power poles. It took out power for hundreds of thousands of customers, leaving many furious with the utility that was supposed to be ready and frustrated by the inability to even report the outage to PSEG LI.
“No agent is available to take your call,” Wantagh resident Anthony Migliaro said.
“We tried to report the tree down, the wires being down, and basically nobody coming here to do anything,” Wantagh resident Anthony Parton said.
“And can you even get through?” CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff asked.
“No,” Parton said.
If customers suspect a hazardous condition, like a transformer that burned for 12 hours in a Jericho backyard, they received a phone message that said, “Please try your call again latear.”
Electrical wires are dangling over Damon Chisolm’s Melville pool.
“Keep getting circuits busy and I totally think it’s ridiculous,” Chisolm said.
⚠️We've restored power to more than 220,000 customers + deployed more than 2,000 crews before the storm began. Crews were immediately available to start restoration yesterday afternoon. Thank you for your patience as both in-house + contractors crews work around the clock. pic.twitter.com/OBth3Redd3
— PSEG Long Island (@PSEGLI) August 5, 2020
The utility’s outage map was outdated for most of Tuesday and its texting app and online outage reporting system was unreachable. Customers were unable to even report dangerous downed wires. In addition, phone calls were not going through.
On Wednesday, New York state senators were calling for an attorney general investigation into an unacceptable breakdown in communications.
“We didn’t learn the lessons from Sandy. What happened yesterday is outrageous,” Sen. John Brooks said.
“Look where we are. Countless Long Islanders found themselves in impossible and sometimes desperate situations,” Sen. Anna Kaplan added.
PSEG LI took over for the Long Island Power Authority after its abysmal response after Superstorm Sandy, and this storm has been, arguably, its biggest test. So there was great hope that things would be very different this time.
But Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the inability of residents to contact PSEG 12 hours after a storm we all knew was coming is a big flaw.
“It’s completely unacceptable that so many residents not only remain out of power — of course we expect some of that with the storm — but it’s really the information … and the difficulty communicating with PSEG and getting the information to PSEG our residents are finding incredibly frustrating,” Curran said.
“PSEG came in after Superstorm Sandy and allegedy spent tens of millions of dollars to upgrade its communication network, and in the very first test, you couldn’t call them, you couldn’t text them, you couldn’t use the website. That’s called an F,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said.
PSEG LI responded to CBS2’s questions not long after 12 p.m., saying more than 200,000 customers have already been restored.
The utility blames the speed of the storm and a flood of calls that overwhelmed communications, along with Verizon outages.
It’s still working to assess root causes but insists modernization did pay off.
“The fact that customers could not contact us in no way has stopped us from restoration,” said Daniel Eichorn, PSEG LI president and chief operating officer.
“What effort did PSEG make to get in contact with customers and to keep customers updated on the status of restoring power?” CBS2’s Ali Bauman asked.
“We’re very active on our social media platforms. We were emailing customers, sending customers text messages,” Eichorn said.
A Verizon spokesperson issued the following statement:
“The vast majority of our wireless and wireline networks are performing as usual in the Northeast. As customer issues have arisen, we’ve been working around the clock to resolve them and have deployed portable network assets in areas where coverage and capacity have been impacted by commercial power outages. We continue to look at all options available to ensure we can provide the service level our customers rely on and look forward to cooperating fully with the commission.”
Regarding comments from PSEG, Verizon said, “We cannot speak to customer specific issues including those related to PSE&G.”
The governor is also calling for an investigation into the response of several utilities across the state.
PSEG LI says most of its customers will have power back by Friday.