(updated 7:02 p.m.) After an hour and a half conference call with municipal leaders from every corner of the state, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday that the hundreds of thousands of residents without power are the primary concern in the aftermath to Tropical Storm Irene.
When the storm moved out Sunday, it left more residents without power than any other storm in state history. As of 5 p.m. Monday, 567,000 Connecticut Light and Power customers were still without power. An additional 105,000 United Illumination customers were still in the dark.
Malloy spoke with members of the media at the Emergency Operations Center at 5 p.m. along with Jeff Butler, president and chief operating officer of CL&P, and John Prete, senior vice president of UI.
It’s going to be awhile before power is returned to everyone, for some people more than a week, they said. Prete said UI should have restoration estimates for customers by midnight tonight, while Butler said CL&P is still in its assessment phase and cannot yet provide estimates.
“Let’s be very clear, it’s going to take a long period of time to restore power to all the customers of CL&P because there has been extensive damage to the system,” Malloy said.
As a rule of thumb, Malloy said that if it has taken a long time for power to be restored to your house after past storms, expect it to take a long time after this one. The process will be slowed as a result of the considerable destruction the storm caused elsewhere, he said.
“Some of the resources that had been aligned to come into this state post-storm have been redirected because of the amount of damage through Vermont and Canada. A bunch of crews that were going to join us in this state from Quebec obviously they’re not coming,” he said.
But Butler said hundreds of crews have already arrived from out of state and there are about 800 crews now in the field. Crews across the state are working 16 hour shifts followed by a mandatory 8 hour rest period, he said.
Under normal circumstances line crews would work overnight up to a 24 hour shift but in an event that will surely keep them in the field for a week, the schedule changes, he said. He defended the policy as a matter of safety, not a cost-saving policy.
“I want to remind people, in 1985 during Hurricane Gloria CL&P had a fatality,” he said.
An investigation of that case found that the employee who died had been working 19 hour days for five days, he said. It was determined that fatigue was a factor in his death, Butler said.
It is not necessarily cheaper for the utility to use out-of-state workers since they pay according to whatever their contract dictates, he said. The question is not about money, it’s about having access to enough line crews, he said. Canada and many other states on the coast are dealing with similar problems and cannot spare the utility workers, he said.
“If they could get 100 more crews today,” Malloy said, “We’d work all of them,” Butler finished.
Malloy said some states are hesitant to let too many crews leave the area to help for fear some they will end up needing them. There are hold-provisions that allow companies to hold on to the their on crews, he said.
The governor said he would be contacting federal officials including Vice President Joe Biden to have a discussion about finding ways to make more crews available to Connecticut.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney wrote to Secretary of Energy Dr. Stephen Chu and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano Monday and asked them to help coordinate out-of-state utility crews to help restore power.
Malloy said the overall impact of Irene could have been worse, but it was still pretty bad. Two residents were killed as a result of the storm and houses were literally swept into the sea in some coastal towns.
Damages due to flooding were extensive in towns close to the ocean or rivers, while the eastern part of the state was hit hard by downed trees.
Other utilities have suffered as well. People throughout the state have had problems using their cellphones. Malloy said it might get worse before it gets better.
“There are about 300 cell sites that are currently fading as a result of them running out of their backup power. The telephone companies are making it a priority but this is occurring in other states as well,” he said.
The governor urged residents to keep their cell use to a minimum until the cell towers are restored. He also encouraged people to stay off the roads as much as possible since fuel was in short supply and many gas stations do not have power.
Fifteen to 20 percent of supermarkets are also currently without power, he said. His administration is looking into whether those outages disproportionately affect urban residents, who are generally less mobile, he said. If that’s the case generators will be directed to urban supermarkets to address the issue, he said.
In the days and weeks to come, Malloy said he would be working with representatives of Federal Emergency Management Agency to survey and assess the scope of the storm’s damage. The amount of federal aid Connecticut will receive, depends on the assessment of the losses.
He and a FEMA executive took a survey flight Monday morning aboard an Army UH-60 helicopter with the Connecticut National Guard to asses some of the damage along coastal towns and municipalities along the Connecticut River.
The governor said the worst damage he saw from the air was in the Simsbury and Farmington River area.
“It was quite extensive. A large number of buildings and farms were underwater,” he said. “I’m certainly impressed with the power of the storm along the shore front. It gave the FEMA executive who is stationed with us an opportunity to understand our topography as well as our shoreline.”
Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Deputy Commissioner Peter Boynton said federal reimbursement can come from a number of different categories.
Before the storm hit, Malloy reached out to President Barack Obama who signed a pre-landfall declaration of emergency for Connecticut. That is a relatively rare move that will ensure that the state can be reimbursed for some of the expenses it incurred while preparing for Irene, Boynton said.
Reimbursable pre-landfall expenses include things like moving food and water into the state and getting generators in place, he said.
Money spent in the aftermath of the storm will have to be reimbursed under different categories. Aid to cover damages to businesses can come from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Meanwhile losses to the public sector and individuals are covered under different FEMA programs.
Boynton noted that to be eligible for the aid the state must meet certain dollar thresholds in each category. The assessment for damages under the individual aid category can only include uninsured damages.
It’s too soon in the process to put a dollar value on Irene’s destruction, he said. To evaluate the scope of the damage, FEMA and other agencies will continue to coordinate aerial surveys, he said.
Boynton said the time-frame for the federal aid is up to FEMA but the process requires the cooperation of town governments who currently have their hands full with the recovery effort.
“This is a very difficult time to be asking those kinds of questions. They understand the importance, that this is how obtain federal aid, but quite frankly it’s competing with the bandwidth,” he said.
Malloy is leading a statewide conference call with all the municipalities Monday afternoon to take questions and keep them up to date on the actions the state is taking. He will inform them of the steps FEMA requires to collect assessments, he said.
Over the last two years the state of Connecticut has received over $30 million in federal aid for repair efforts after the snow storms over the winter and wind storm in March of 2010, Boynton said.