North Forkers powerless and learning to live with it

PETER BOODY PHOTO | LIPA trucks arriving on Shelter Island Monday morning. LIPA said Wednesday evening that an additional 1,969 utility personnel are on way to Long Island to assist in the restoration effort.

When Tropical Storm Irene struck the North Fork 14 months ago, Tom and Kathleen Burke only lost power for six hours, even as the neighbors on both sides of their home on Bray Avenue in Laurel had to struggle through a blackout that lasted several days.

The Burkes were lucky then. Not so much now.

Two days after Hurricane Sandy struck the North Fork, the couple spent Wednesday morning at a table inside Wendy’s Deli in Mattituck. They were close to hitting 48 hours without power and they weren’t alone.

Sandy brought record outages to Long Island, where more than 900,000 customers were powerless at the storm’s peak and LIPA has warned that some customers will not be able to turn their lights on until late next week.

“The damage caused to Long Island’s electric system has been devastating,” LIPA officials said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon.

The impact has certainly been felt on the North Fork. As of Wednesday morning, more than 15,000 LIPA customers in Southold and Riverhead towns were still in the dark, most of them having lost their power sometime Monday afternoon.

The Burkes said the lights went out at their house around 5 p.m. Monday. Wendy’s owner Wendy Zuhoski said her deli has been packed with area residents looking for hot coffee, fresh food and a place to plug their lives back in.

“This is civilization,” Mr. Burke remarked. A civilization seeking lights and Internet.

At Panera Bread in Riverhead more than a half-dozen folks had turned their breakfast tables into workstations Wednesday. Some said they had power in their homes but not phone or Internet. Others, like Calverton resident Dennis Anderson, just needed a charge.

“I need to be able to communicate with my family,” he said as he sat quietly at his table, occasionally checking the battery life on his iPad and iPhone. Mr. Anderson was coming off a good run in which he was able to go more than 40 hours without charging either device after losing power around 3 p.m. Monday. With 3,436 outages as of Wednesday, Calverton was the North Fork hamlet with the most LIPA customers still in the dark.

A teacher at Suffolk Community College’s Eastern Campus in Riverhead, he said he’s been spending his days catching up on reading.

Kathy Chamberlain of Mattituck said she’s also been keeping sane by reading since losing cable but not power Monday afternoon. A self-proclaimed news junkie, she’s also been keeping tabs on the storm via Internet by listening to talk radio and following blogs.

It hasn’t been so bad she said, except for the cold shock her feet got Wednesday morning when she went to take a shower.

“I forgot I had filled the tub with water,” she said with a laugh.

Ms. Burke said she also filled her tub and was grateful to learn later that Waldbaum’s in Mattituck was selling bags of chopped ice and gallons of spring water for 99 cents in the days following the storm.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 2,500 LIPA customers in the Mattituck-Laurel area remained powerless.

“It’s the whole neighborhood,” Ms. Burke said.

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