Frustration grows as PSEG moves timeline for power restoration to Saturday

Lisa Longboat could see the ground moving over the roots of a locust tree in the front yard of her Wading River home Tuesday.

Then, moments later, a strong gust of wind changed the landscape around her.

“It was just this one strong wind,” Ms. Longboat said outside her Sunset Boulevard home Thursday, the sound of a generator in the background. “They all just started falling.”

Nearly 48 hours later, trees on neighboring properties remained in the roadway, some stretching clear across to the other side, making the road impassable. Power lines could still be seen on the ground and in one spot just to the west of her house, a power line hung low across the street, forcing cars to swerve around its lowest point.

“It’s a dangerous situation,” Ms. Longboat said. “Especially at night when you really can’t see it.”

Still, PSEG-Long Island hasn’t yet sent a repair crew to the location, one of the hardest hit across Riverhead and Southold Towns.

Related Story: Thousands remain without power as tropical storm cleanup begins on North Fork

In the days since, public officials in both towns have expressed frustration about the situation as the number of reported outages across the North Fork continues to increase. As of 3 p.m., there were more than 5,100 PSEG customers without power in the two towns.

“There is a lot of unhappy people over this situation,” said Scott Russell, the supervisor of Southold Town, where outages hovered at around 2,450 Thursday afternoon. “We still have roads that are fully closed and others that are partially closed. We finally got electrical crews out here. We can’t touch these trees until those crews come and make sure it’s safe.”

Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley expressed frustration that PSEG did not pre-stage crews in advance of the storm to move quickly once it passed, as has been done in the past.

“This did not go well from the very beginning,” the chief said. “On Tuesday when the wind picked up we’d start calling on a special line we have for the police department. We started calling and that was not successful. We were in a real scramble to get help.

“This is one of the worst failures I’ve seen.”

Downed wires on Sunset Boulevard in Wading River Tuesday. The wires were still that way on Thursday. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said Thursday that officials in her town are particularly concerned for residents in “senior citizen developments and mobile home parks that depend on electricity for respirators or oxygen or seizure monitors that depend on the internet.”

“I would ask that they come up with a better plan for those people in the interim, and that their systems were functioning properly so people could actually reach them and get answers,” Ms. Giglio said

Residents across both towns have reported frustration over communication with PSEG, saying they’ve had difficulty getting through to report an outage or request assistance and that outage maps appear more inaccurate than during past storms. The outages also appear more scattered with one neighbor having power and another not.

The Fleets Neck community in Cutchogue stands as a good example of this.

There are dozens of homes on Fleets Neck without power, but it’s a hodgepodge depending on what street you are on. Some have no power; others have power but no cable or internet. Most of the homes along Stillwater Avenue on Fleets Neck have no power; most of the homes one street over on Pequash have power.

A woman out walking her dog in the neighborhood said Thursday that she made multiple calls to PSEG to report the wire being down but never got through.

“So many people are having difficulty reporting outages,” Mr. Russell said. “Some are getting busy signals and then they get through and report the outage and when they call later they are told they didn’t know that area was out.”

PSEG estimates 85% of customers will be restored by the end of day Friday, with the remainder restored by Saturday. More than 2,000 lineworkers, tree trimmers and other personnel are working around the clock, in 16-hour shifts until every customer is restored, the utility said in a statement. In total, more than 440,000 PSEG customers across Long Island were impacted.

Tropical Storm Isaias arrived in force Tuesday afternoon, and while the eye of the storm tracked west over New Jersey, resulting in little to no rain locally, strong wind gusts still wreaked havoc.

The National Weather Service recorded a wind gust of 64 mph in Orient. Gusts of up to 78 mph were recorded at Farmingdale Airport, the highest mark in Suffolk County. Several other locations recorded gusts above 70 mph.

Calling Tuesday’s storm a “significant natural disaster,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone noted the number of outages reported are at the highest level since superstorm Sandy in 2012, when about 950,000 customers lost power.

“We know we’ve had significant issues with communication,” Mr. Bellone said Thursday. “Those need to be addressed. We need to examine those, understand those so they can be corrected and fixed before another major storm hits. But the focus and concern from the beginning has been that we’re doing everything we can, that PSEG is doing everything they can to get the lights and power turned back on. That is exactly what they’re doing.”