HARTFORD, Conn. – Utility crews have been slower to fix Northeast power outages caused by last weekend's record-setting snowstorm than they were after Hurricane Irene and its remnants because they had less time to prepare, a U.S. Department of Energy official said Tuesday.
Bill Bryan, a deputy assistant secretary for the agency, said during a stop in hard-hit Connecticut that he was monitoring the mutual aid response that has sent thousands of extra workers into the region.
The freak October snowstorm knocked out power to 3 million homes and businesses from Maryland to Maine. About 1.6 million customers remained without power Tuesday.
Bryan says utility companies didn't have time to get additional workers from other regions in place before the snowstorm like they were able to do before Irene in August. The companies had several days to prepare for Irene and only a few days to prepare for the snowstorm, which hit the region harder than was forecast. At midweek last week, some forecasters said the storm was going to miss New England.
Thousands of extra crews from across the country are now helping to restore power in the Northeast, where some utility customers aren't expected to get their electricity back until next week.
"When you know you've got a hurricane coming, part of the mutual assistance package is to pre-stage crews," Bryan said. "So after the hurricane has come and gone, you already have crews on the outskirts ready to come in and start working. ... This storm hit, and these crews were not mobilized."
Six thousand extra utility crews were either working in the Northeast on Tuesday or getting close to arriving, officials said.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who asked the Department of Energy for help in coordinating the cleanup and power restoration response, said Tuesday that he was disappointed that the number of out-of-state crews helping in the state was lower than expected. A spokeswoman for the governor said he wasn't criticizing the utilities' response, just trying to do everything he could to get the power on quicker.
About 700 extra workers on Tuesday were helping the 200 regular crews of Connecticut Light & Power Co., the state's largest utility, which had requested 1,000 additional crews. The weekend storm caused more than 830,000 outages in the state — a record — and about 650,000 customers remained in the dark Tuesday.
Bryan said it appeared there were problems in the way extra workers were being distributed in the region.
"If you look at the outages in Connecticut, which basically equal the outages of all the other places combined, you really don't have yet a fair distribution of workers, mutual assistance teams out here doing this," Bryan said.
The storm on Saturday and Sunday dropped snowfall totals ranging from less than an inch in some places to 32 inches in the small town of Peru, Mass., in the Berkshire Mountains. The wet, heavy snow snapped branches and toppled trees and brought down an extensive network of wiring, including sturdy, long-distance transmission lines and wires supplying individual homes, making repairs difficult.
Authorities blamed the storm for at least 25 deaths, including one in Canada. Most were caused by falling trees, traffic accidents or electrocutions from downed wires. There also were reports of people suffering carbon monoxide poisoning from improperly ventilated generators.
The outages forced schools across the Northeast to remain closed Tuesday. People continued lining up for fuel for their cars and generators as many gas stations remained without power. Shelters were busy as people without heat in their homes sought refuge from cold temperatures.
Jim Ponte and his girlfriend have been staying at a shelter at a community center in Rocky Hill, about 10 miles south of Hartford, since they lost power on Saturday. They have been going home at night to leave the roughly 90 cots in a gym for the elderly.
"We stay here as late as we can, then we go home and put on 10 layers of clothing," the 28-year-old custodian said. "I'll be out picking up a generator as soon as this is all over."
Rocky Hill Mayor Tony LaRosa and his family stayed at the shelter Monday night before going home and climbing under quilts. Besides the people on cots in the gym, he said people have been sleeping in cots in the hallway of town hall and in sleeping bags on chairs in the town council chambers.
"This is much, much worse than anything we've seen," LaRosa said. "I'm thankful it happened now instead of the middle of January. I don't know where we'd put everybody."
Daytime temperatures reached the 50s — unusually mild for the days after a wintry storm — but overnight temperatures dipped into the 30s and below over much of the region.
In Massachusetts, about 1,900 people spent Monday night at 76 shelters around the state, emergency management officials said. The largest numbers were reported in the western part of the state including Springfield Central High School, where 429 stayed overnight.
Outside the school, Susie Nguyen was getting some fresh air with her brother. She said she spent about a week in a Red Cross evacuation center after a tornado struck the area in June.
"This is the second time this year," she said. "I don't want anything else to happen. I want it quiet from now on."
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch said about 260 people stayed at shelters across the state Monday night.
Associated Press writers Susan Haigh and Dave Collins, in Hartford, contributed to this report.
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