Power restoration a slow process


Crews, like this one in Prospect, were hard at work Monday clearing fallen trees and braches and restoring power. LARAINE WESCHLER

A day after Hurricane Irene made her presence felt across the state, Connecticut Light & Power had restored power to more than 288,000 of its customers. As of early this afternoon though, about 403,442 customers were still in the dark.

“We’re working with the state and towns to help clear over 1,000 roads with 300 already re-opened and have made substantial progress in assessing the damage to our system,” said Jeff Butler, president and chief operating officer of CL&P in a prepared release issued Monday night. “Our restoration efforts will focus on restoration of critical customers and areas where the largest amount of customers can be restored the soonest.”

More crews were expected to arrive this morning to help the approximate 800 line and tree crews already working in Connecticut. CL&P said restoration efforts will continue around the clock, with the majority of crews beginning their shift around 7 a.m. to maximize daylight hours.

Even with the massive effort underway to restore power, it could be days before power is fully restored across the state.

Locally, the number of people without power was slowly improving.

As of this afternoon, 3,147 or 21 percent of CL&P customers in Naugatuck were still without power. In Beacon Falls 465 or 17 percent of the town was without power, and 174 or 4 percent of the company’s customers in Prospect were powerless.

On Tuesday afternoon, Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo said the CL&P’s message has consistently been that fallen trees and branches will be cleared and cut before any massive power restoration begins. He said since the power first went out in Naugatuck about 1,500 customers have regained their power. Most of which, he said, were simple fixes and along New Haven Road.

Mezzo said officials have a fair assumption that the cutting and clearing of trees will be finished by tonight and attention can be turned to restoring power in the borough.

“It’s still a very painfully slow process, frustrating process,” Mezzo said.

Once the effort turns to restoring power large areas in town along with the schools will be targeted first, Mezzo said.

City Hill Middle School in Naugatuck will be open until 8 p.m. today for residents who want to get water or take showers. Mezzo said the town will also open the school tomorrow.

Borough residents can also get water at the fire department for utility purposes only, Mezzo said, not for drinking.

Residents looking for water will have to bring their own container.

Additional information will be posted online at www.naugatuck-ct.gov regarding any updates or projected restoration efforts.

With power outages still prevalent, the Naugatuck Fire Department issued some safety tips on candle and generator use.

The department advised residents to avoid using candles in the bedroom and other areas where people may fall asleep, keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, use candle holders that are sturdy and won’t tip, don’t burn a candle all the way down, and never use a candle if oxygen is used in the home.

Generators should be used in well ventilated locations outside away from all doors, windows and vent openings. They should never be used in an attached garage, even with the door open. Generators should be placed so that exhaust fumes can’t enter the home through windows, doors or other openings in the building. If you use a generator, make sure to install carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in your home. Turn off generators and let them cool down before refueling. Never refuel a generator while it is running.

As patience wears thin for those still without power, a disagreement between the union representing CL&P workers and the company over the workers’ hours has bubbled to the service.

“We’re getting calls from the guys saying, ‘We’re sitting here and they’re not letting us out,'” said Frank Cirillo, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 420 in Waterbury. “[CL&P says] they wanted them to work daylight hours. We think the reason is they don’t want to pay overtime rates.”

A CL&P spokesman confirmed Monday that while repair crews were dispatched on Saturday and again after the storm subsided Sunday, they were called back each time over concerns that winds were picking up and would cause danger for workers in bucket lifts.

“If you’re up in a bucket and the winds begin surpassing 30-35 miles per hour, it becomes a real safety issue to work on a platform that’s moving while you’re trying to work on a fixed line or pole,” CL&P spokesman Frank Poirot said.

Poirot dismissed the union’s contention that the men were sent home as a cost-cutting measure. The union had made a similar charge in June when CL&P pulled workers who had put in 16 hours or more out of what it said were safety concerns.

“They wanted to work 24 hours a day,” Poirot said. “Were going to be doing this a minimum of seven days. Imagine how safe and effective they’ll be without sleep for seven days. They’re working a long and challenging day as it is with 16 hours.”

John Unikas, assistant business manager for the union, called that “ridiculous.”

“I was in the field many years, a lineman 37 years, and our linemen knew if we work extended hours, we get the job done quicker,” he said. “I don’t understand their philosophy, but one thing I can honestly say… our number one priority was the customers get their lights back on. That’s not happening and that’s not right.”

Poirot said the utility’s “restoration strategy” dictates that crews first go out into impacted areas and do damage assessments and make sure streets are clear, without actually doing the repairs.

The repair work, he said is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

To report outages or check the status of an outage, visit cl-p.com or call (800) 286-2000.

People can also get updates on outages by texting “outage” and their zip code to 24612. Texting fees may apply.