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Fairfield, Trumbull officials blast UI over Sandy response

Updated 10:33 pm, Sunday, November 4, 2012

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  • Cars, many from New Jersey and NewYork, wait in line for gas at a rest stop in Fairfield, Conn. on Sunday, November 4, 2012. Photo: BK Angeletti, B.K. Angeletti / Connecticut Post freelance B.K. Angeletti
    Cars, many from New Jersey and NewYork, wait in line for gas at a rest stop in Fairfield, Conn. on Sunday, November 4, 2012. Photo: BK Angeletti, B.K. Angeletti

 

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After more than six full days without power, some area officials are growing frustrated with The United Illuminating Co.'s response after Superstorm Sandy.

UI officials say 93 percent of customers now have power, and they're on pace to meet their goal of 95 percent by Monday night.

And the percentage of customers without electricity in Fairfield -- one of the hardest-hit areas in the region -- had dropped below 22 percent during the day Sunday. But First Selectman Michael Tetreau is convinced that number could have been zero by now if UI officials had been more responsive.

"I appreciate that UI is doing its best to get our numbers down, but we lost the first two or three days because they took so long to get in here," Tetreau said. "Power could have been restored by now if they responded quicker."

And while the town has been toured and visited by a bevy of state and federal officials, Tetreau said they haven't heard anything from UI officials.

"I'm just so disgusted and frustrated," he said. "Where's the caring from UI for the people who are without power and cold in their homes? Because we initially didn't have the numbers of some of the other communities, they only sent us one crew in the beginning; it's all about the number of outages and not what the community needs."

Schools in Fairfield will remain closed Monday, but polls will be open Tuesday.

Trumbull First Selectman Timothy Herbst said he shares both Tetreau's sentiments and frustrations with UI.

Trumbull was down to 10 percent of customers without power during the day Sunday, or 1,464 out of 13,841.

Despite that, Herbst said "It has taken a lot of persuasion and a lot of repeat requests for UI to give us additional manpower. The individual crews have been outstanding. My issue goes to the communication aspect."

In one instance, Herbst requested UI send additional crews to Stern Village, the town's senior housing complex, because those residents heat their home exclusively with electricity. But, Herbst said, UI refused to send additional crews, and they were forced to evacuate all the Stern Village residents.

When members of the state's legislative delegation visited the town's emergency storm center, Herbst said, he found they had more information of power restoration for Trumbull than he was getting from UI.

And on Sunday, Herbst said, he was touring the Nichols area of town, where residents complained to him they have been getting conflicting information from UI about when their power will be restored.

"I saw, first hand, 400 to 500 homes that were without power, but UI officials told me they only had information it was about 200 homes. We have to get to a place where UI and (Connecticut Light & Power) understand they are not only providing a public service but a public health and safety service. Electric power directly impacts the health and safety of our residents."

UI spokesman Michael West Jr. said the utility is meeting all the challenges, including its vow to have 95 percent of its customers restored with power by 11:59 p.m. Monday. In fact, he said, 93 percent of their customers already have their power back.

West said he sympathizes with those who are still in the dark and complain that UI did not act swiftly enough to restore power, but it took two days for UI to assess the extent of the damage.

"It's similar to when someone goes to the emergency room," West said. "You are in pain and you want that pain to go away, but the doctor can't provide the proper treatment until they determine what is wrong with you."

Just three days after Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch criticized UI officials for under-serving the city, UI crews converged on the Park City to bring its outage percentage Sunday to 2.5, or 1,412 customers out of 56,703.

Elaine Ficarra, the mayor's spokeswoman, said all schools will be open Monday and all polling places, with the exception of one, will operate normally Tuesday. Instead of the Longfellow School, residents of the West Side in Bridgeport will use the nearby Aquaculture School for their polling place.

Easton still had the highest outage percentage Sunday, with 28.2 percent, or 809 out of 2,861 customers, still without power.

But First Selectman Thomas Hermann said schools will be open Monday, "and parents couldn't be happier." He said the town's sole polling place at Samuel Staples School will be ready.

"I can't say the process is going well because there are still many people without power. This was a real disaster, and we've been severely impacted and we are digging ourselves out," Hermann said.

The massive power outages in New York and New Jersey were sending residents to this area for gasoline for their cars.

Bridgeport police stopped two New York drivers that were filling water jugs and paint cans with gasoline at a local gas station. And on the highway, the long lines of out-of-state residents at the pumps at the northbound service station in Fairfield reminded many of the 1970s.

Steven Ortiz, an employee of the Fairfield station, said he counted as many as 60 cars in the lines waiting at the pumps at one time.

"They are all from New York and New Jersey, and they all say the same thing: they have no gas near their homes, so they had to drive here," he said.