Eastern utilities brace for super storm

Home Depot workers Shaun Sika, left and Jose Maysonet load the last generator on the store’s shelves into a customer’s SUV in Glastonbury, Conn., on Thursday. East Coast residents are preparing for a major storm expected to hit the region early next week.

Home Depot workers Shaun Sika, left and Jose Maysonet load the last generator on the store’s shelves into a customer’s SUV in Glastonbury, Conn., on Thursday. East Coast residents are preparing for a major storm expected to hit the region early next week. Photo by The Associated Press.

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Utilities and governments along the East Coast are working to head off long-term power failures as forecasters predict a major storm to hit a region already skittish after foul weather in recent months that plunged residents into darkness for weeks.

Power companies from the Southeast to New England are telling independent contractors to be ready to help fix storm damage quickly and are asking employees to cancel vacations and work longer hours.

“Although we are not certain the storm will impact the state, we need to be prepared,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday. “That means everyone, especially the state’s utility companies.”

Several storms in the region cut power off for extended periods in the past year or so, including Tropical Storms Irene and Lee in the summer of 2011, a freak Halloween snowstorm last year and violent weather in the mid-Atlantic region in June this year.

Connecticut was among the hardest-hit states last year when Irene and the snowstorm knocked out power to more than 800,000 homes and businesses in the state. Some were without electricity for more than a week after both storms.

State regulators harshly criticized Connecticut Light & Power for a “deficient and inadequate” response. The company’s president, Jeffrey Butler, resigned in November.

The company, which serves more than 1 million customers in the state, has worked to improve communications with city officials and between company crews and out-of state workers, CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross said.

The company has already put independent contractors on notice to be prepared next week, and had already increased its tree-trimming budget this year to try to prevent outages as snow-laden limbs crash onto power lines.

In New Jersey, where the storm is expected to come ashore, Jersey Central Power & Light has told employees to be prepared for extended shifts. The utility was criticized for its response to Irene.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick has given utilities until Friday to submit plans for the storm. When asked during Thursday on WTKK-FM whether utilities would be ready, Patrick responded, “They’d better be.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday noted some uncertainty in the forecasts and said the city was striking a tone of calm preparedness.

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