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Questions linger in the wake of Isaias

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When Tropical Storm Isaias blew through Valley Stream last Tuesday, the pain was relatively short-lived for most people.

For about two hours that afternoon, winds gusting to 70 mph pummeled the area, bringing down trees large and small. Village officials estimated that more than a hundred trees and large branches had fallen during the storm, taking with them a number of power lines.

At its peak, PSEG-Long Island reported that 420,000 customers across the Island had been affected. While the exact number of outages in Valley Stream was unclear, on Friday, three days after the storm, 375 Valley Stream homes and businesses remained without power. By Monday, power had been restored to all but 38 homes in the area, according to the utility’s outage map, but the long wait for repairs and a breakdown in PSEG’s outage reporting system prompted inquiries by lawmakers, and for some, the damage from Isaias will linger for some time.

On Rockaway Avenue, a small strip of eateries suffered a partial outage that lasted into Monday, causing a harsh economic impact on top of the fiscal damage already inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

At the Chicken Coop on Rockaway Avenue, Omar Carrilo, father of the Colombian eatery’s owner, said the restaurant had had only partial power since the storm struck last Tuesday. Although the lights were on, without the electric voltage required to power its refrigerators, restaurant staff were forced to throw away $10,000 to $15,000 worth of meat, dairy and vegetables, he said. Additionally, its grill ventilation blower, which runs on the same lines, was inoperable, which meant staff could only serve certain foods.

Between Isaias and the coronavirus pandemic, “We’re losing here, we’re losing there,” Carrilo said. “It just doesn’t stop.”

Because the outage lasted through the weekend, it was particularly debilitating for the eatery. To ease pressures on restaurants amid the pandemic, the village has closed Rockaway to traffic Fridays and Saturdays this summer to allow for on-street dining. On weekend evenings, the Chicken Coop has picked up considerable and much-needed business. Although only able to serve a partial menu, Carrilo said there was no choice but to forge ahead. “We’ll serve what we can,” he said. “We can’t close.”

Next door, Vyancka Kilimet, owner of specialty cake and cupcake bakery the Little Sugar Shop, was in a similar situation. “It’s been really bad,” she said on Friday.

Without refrigeration to keep her cakes from melting, Kilimet said she was forced to cancel all her orders for the week, resulting in a loss of $8,000 to $10,000 in business.

“On top of this pandemic, we’ve been trying to balance things out and survive” she said, “and then all of a sudden this.”

At U.S. Bagels, also within the same strip of Rockaway food establishments, worker Ivan Karrasfield said that without electricity to power its large, walk-in refrigerator, the bagel shop had no place to store its dough and cream cheese. As a result, it had to purchase bagels from elsewhere for the week, and store the cream cheese in the remaining working refrigerators. Customers complained. “They’re used to our flavor,” Karrasfield said.

It had been a rough week for the shop, he said, exasperated, “but here we are.”

 

Lawmakers call for investigations

In addition to long wait times for repairs, a reported breakdown in the communication systems used to report outages has prompted calls by lawmakers for investigations into PSEG and Verizon, with State Sen. Todd Kaminsky announcing that he had tentatively scheduled a hearing on Aug. 17 to focus on customer frustrations with the utilities.

“While a powerful storm is beyond anyone’s control, the breakdown of these entities’ communications systems, prohibiting Long Islanders from contacting customer service and reporting power outages, is a deeply troubling failure that must be probed,” he said.

Shortly after the storm passed, Frank Sparacino, on Jackson Road, said he tried calling multiple government agencies about the roughly 18-foot tree that had fallen in front of his home, to no avail, including, he said, 911.

It was worrisome, he said. “I don’t care if it’s lying there for 40 years,” he said of the tree, which was blocking his driveway. “At least pick up the phone.” 

Utility representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

Damage to homes

While the destruction was largely limited to power lines, a handful of cars and homes were damaged, according to village officials. On Dogwood place, a homeowner had part of a roughly 50-foot tree fall through his roof.

Although the owner declined to give his name, he described the harrowing experience when around 1:30 p.m. he and his family heard a loud noise, hurried to the basement and called the Fire Department.

“We didn’t know what it was,” he recalled, only later discovering a sharp branch protruding from his living room ceiling, hanging roughly a foot from the floor.

He said he and his family had tried to prepare, securing items that might blow away outside, but added, “We never thought the tree right outside our house would come down in the way that it did.”

In addition to the structural damage, the home’s air-conditioning system was damaged as well. “We have no idea how much money it will cost,” he said, but noted, “No one was hurt when the tree fell. We’re just glad no one was hurt.”

 

Nicole Alcindor contributed to this story.