By Melissa Koenig
Ben Vega needs to keep his cat’s insulin cold, but he struggled to do so after his power went out during Tropical Storm Isaias last week. He kept his essential items in a cooler with ice because “there isn’t much else to do,” he said, and “with the pandemic situation . . . it makes it harder to go to a family member’s house to ride it out.”
“It has been difficult so far,” Vega told the Herald on Aug. 6, after three days without electricity, adding that he lost a great deal of food during the outage.
He tried many times to contact PSEG via its automated systems and social media, and received a message on Thursday saying that power would not be restored to his area until Saturday.
“I know it’s an overwhelming task with weather, but PSEG took over for LIPA after the Sandy fiasco,” Vega said. “They had plenty of time to improve on that. Their communications with customers like me is horrible.”
Nearly 50,000 Long Island customers remained without power on Monday morning, according to the PSEG website, with more than 150 affected in the Franklin Square-Elmont area. The utility posted a message on its website the night prior, saying, “The backbone of the system — transmission lines and substations — has been restored, and we are hard at work restoring the distribution system that serves our neighborhoods. The damage to many of these circuits is extensive, and as these individual damage spots are assessed, estimated restoration times will be refined.”
LIPA officials said on Aug. 6 that they had hired an outside company to review PSEG’s response to Isaias, and a group of state senators called on the attorney general’s office to conduct another investigation. In a letter to Attorney General Letitia James on Aug. 5, they wrote that their offices had “been inundated with complaints from constituents who have been unable to report their outages to PSEG-LI — both via its text-in system, as well as its phone lines.”
“This colossal communications collapse is unacceptable to hardworking PSEG-LI ratepayers, many of whom were seeking to report the dangerous situations created by downed power lines and live wires,” the letter — signed by Senators Todd Kaminsky, John Brooks, Anna Kaplan, Kevin Thomas, James Gaughran and Monica Martinez — stated, noting that the “communication breakdown” placed critical-care patients at risk because they might rely on electricity to power life-support machines or to refrigerate their medicine.
“It is unconscionable,” the letter continued, “that our utilities’ communications services left Long Islanders without the ability to report dangerous situations or make informed decisions around restoration times, especially during a pandemic when many residents are working from home and may face further economic hardships from an extended power outage.”
Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, a Democrat from Elmont, said in a statement that the utility had enough time to formulate a response plan before the storm.
“This has been a disappointing experience with PSEG,” she said. “We need answers in regards to what went wrong, and how they will improve moving forward.”
Isaias rolled through Nassau County on Aug. 4 with sustained winds in the 30 to 50mph range — with some gusts in excess of 70 miles per hour. It shut down Long Island Rail Road service throughout the afternoon, and tore down more than 1,000 trees and some 338 electric and phone wires.
In Franklin Square, Angela Pedone said she was fortunate she went to the bank during the storm, because when she returned to her house on Washington Street, she found her next-door neighbor’s tree had fallen into her driveway.
“Thank God I wasn’t home,” she said, “because I have a new car, and it’s a lease.”
Her neighbors removed the limbs from her driveway and cut them up into smaller chunks by the next morning, when, she said, several neighbors drove by to assess the storm’s damage.
“Nobody got hurt,” she told passersby, “so we’re lucky.”
Elsewhere, streets were blocked off or partially obstructed by downed trees and limbs. Anyone trying to turn onto Fenworth Boulevard from Dogwood Avenue quickly realized they had to turn around because a portion of the road, near Wesley United Methodist Church, was roped off so PSEG-Long Island crews could remove a tree caught in a power line.
The Elmont Fire Department also received many calls after the storm, according to Commissioner Ralph Esposito, with power outages reported throughout the area. “These guys went above and beyond,” Esposito said of Elmont’s firefighters. “Everyone from the janitors to the chiefs was working.”
He added that he is proud to live in Elmont, where he offered to store food for his neighbors whose electricity went out. “We’re one family in our community,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Scott Brinton contributed to this story.