Power Outages From Isaias for 1.6 Million Could Last Several Days


Dozens of people forced to work from home because of the coronavirus lined up outside a library in a Connecticut suburb on Thursday, desperate for internet and a place to charge their laptops.

A food pantry just west of Atlantic City in New Jersey, which had already been feeding people who were unemployed because of the pandemic, was now helping those whose food had spoiled in refrigerators with no power.

In another New Jersey suburb, a plastic surgeon who reopened his office in June had to close again when his electricity was knocked out.

Two days after Tropical Storm Isaias tore through the region, more than 1.5 million customers were still without power, and some could be in the dark into next week in what is emerging as the worst natural disaster to hit the area since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Sandy was a far bigger calamity in terms of lives lost and the scope of destruction. But this time the storm arrived in the middle of a pandemic, bringing a new kind of misery to people who already felt as if they were just barely coping. New York City took less of a hit than the surrounding suburbs.

Struggling businesses now faced costly repairs from storm damage. Residents who had sought refuge from the virus at home were not sure when phone service or air conditioning would return, and some risked temporarily moving in with others who still had power or internet. Food, gas and generators grew scarce as many prepared for extended hardship.

“It’s just one more thing,” said Dr. Barry Citron, the plastic surgeon. Dr. Citron had worked in April at a field hospital in the Meadowlands sports complex that was set up to treat patients during the height of the pandemic in New Jersey.

“This year is not good,” he said. “A storm shutting down the office is not that hard to weather, but it’s just that it’s this year. We want it to be over.”

The length of the power losses was likely to fall short of those that were caused by the hurricane, which left some places without power for weeks. Still, utility companies were struggling to get through a tangled of toppled trees in a region where much of the power is provided by overhead lines.

In Connecticut, which appeared to be more severely affected than New York or New Jersey, the main electric supplier, Eversource, said it could take several days to restore power to more than 500,000 of its 1.2 million electric customers. Officials said that they were assessing the damage and that some neighborhoods were still impassable.

About 150,000 Con Edison customers in New York City and Westchester County were still without power, and the work to restore it to all of them could last into Monday, said Timothy P. Cawley, the utility’s president.

That number included nearly 60,000 New York City residents, most of them in Queens.

In New Jersey, Public Service Electric and Gas said on Thursday it was working to restore power for about 140,000 customers, but said some restorations might not be complete until Monday.

“The restoration is moving safely and quickly,” said Lauren Ugorji, a spokeswoman for the utility. “I know it doesn’t feel like it for most people who are still out. For us, bringing back hundreds of thousands of people in one or two days is really a lot of intense dedicated work.”

The pace of restoration has prompted an angry response from public officials. Both Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and the top regulator in Connecticut have said they will investigate utilities’ preparation for the storm.

“We were disappointed that they didn’t have more guys on the ground ready to go,” Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut said. “We have some catching up to do. We’re going to hold their feet to the fire until we’re caught up.”

Isaias made landfall in North Carolina and left a path of destruction as it raced up the East Coast on Tuesday. Two people were killed when a tornado struck a neighborhood in northeast North Carolina. Falling trees killed a woman in Maryland and a man in Briarwood, Queens, before the fast-moving storm sped off into Canada on Wednesday.

In New Jersey, a 68-year-old man was killed on Wednesday when he came into contact with low-hanging wires as he cleared storm debris, the authorities said.

On Thursday, scenes of frustration and pain continued to unfold across the region.

In Mount Vernon, N.Y., Matthew Jones, 50, who lost his job managing a retail store in March because of the pandemic, said the internet disruption from Isaias was making it difficult for him to look for new work.

“My big thing now that we have Covid-19 and with me being out of a job is that the internet is my only chance of getting another job,” he said.

Femi Guri, 33, took his two young children to his parents’ house in Queens, which made everyone nervous because of the risk of spreading the virus.

His father ended up giving him a generator and sending him away.

“It’s a crazy year,” Mr. Guri said.

With power still out in many places in New Jersey — and the contents of many refrigerators ruined — the demand at a food pantry in Egg Harbor Township in South Jersey was soaring, said Kimberly Arroyo of the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

“We are seeing families come to our pantry that have lost a lot of food,” said Ms. Arroyo. “Eggs, milk, meat: Those things are expensive to replace.”

In North Cape May, N.J., the Haven House at St. John of God, a low-income, senior housing site, was without power for more than 30 hours, leaving residents with rotting perishables and no easy way to cook.

“They all live off Social Security. They just got their checks,” said Alisa Erdman, social service coordinator for Haven House. “They all went shopping on Monday, and all their food is gone.”

Officials scrambled to provide supplemental food, handing out pizza for lunch and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner on Wednesday. Power was restored early Wednesday evening.

But with residents’ refrigerators largely empty, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey was sending over easy-to-prepare meal kits on Thursday afternoon, Ms. Erdman said.

Four months into the pandemic, many residents had already been struggling with isolation and fear.

“When this happened, we just said: Let’s get to work and just keep moving forward and not worry about what else can happen,” Ms. Erdman said.

In Monroe, Conn., a town about 17 miles west of New Haven, residents flocked on Thursday to the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library, which was offering free outdoor wireless internet access and power.

The parking lot was full by 10 a.m. as more than 100 people — many of them already working from home and now lacking internet access — sat in their cars or at tables set up around the building. Some charged their laptops with extension cords stretched out from the library’s exterior outlets.

Matthew Rentz, a marketing manager at New York Life Insurance Company, said he arrived at the library around 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

He said that he had been waiting for power to be restored to a relative’s home when he found out about the library.

“I don’t really want to go into people’s homes right now,” he said.

The staff at the Torrington Library in Connecticut was scrambling to figure out how to let people use its power and internet service while making sure they stayed socially distanced, said Jessica Gueniat, the library’s director.

It had been a place of refuge during Sandy and during other storms. But the staff had to limit capacity, normally around 200 people, to about 25 or 30 people on the main floor. They spaced out tables so they were more than six feet apart and wiped down surfaces.

“It’s trying to explain to people: We understand that there’s a need, we understand that you need us,” she said. “Let’s do it responsibly. Let’s do it safely.”

In Rockland County, Michael Gach, 39, said he had been without power since Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Gach, his wife and his daughter moved into a guest room in his grandmother’s house, which still has access to power.

But by staying with his grandparents, Mr. Gach now has a new worry. His wife works as a social worker at a school and interacts with other people.

“It definitely gives you pause when you think about what she could possibly be exposed to and what she’s bringing home to elderly people,” he said.

Kevin Armstrong, Peter Blair, Arielle Dollinger, Juliana Kim, Patrick McGeehan, Nate Schweber and Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.





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