The power outage remains one of the biggest concerns for state officials, but unlike past storm outages its impact goes well beyond being able to turn on the lights or stove.
Without electricity food spoils and toilets don’t flush, but the widespread outage has also caused problems for cellphone, internet, and cable services.
“I think we recognize now when electricity goes down a whole set of secondary systems are exposed and weakened,“ Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty said Tuesday.
But they may not have recognized it soon enough.
The telephone and cable companies were at the Emergency Operations Center inside the state armory talking with state officials throughout the storm, but there was little they were able to do to prevent their systems from going down.
“We were very unhappy yesterday as the mobile phone system began to degrade,” Esty said. “We worked overnight to bring generators in and to bring that system back up again.”
He said as a result of the incident they put together a communications restoration task force to bring together state government and phone and cable companies.
Jeff Butler, CEO for Connecticut Light & Power, said his company has been working closely with AT&T who has 2,000 cell towers in the state. About 300 of AT&T’s cell towers went to battery power and electrical service wasn’t restored in time to save them from going down.
As soon as this began to happen Esty said they called the phone companies in and told them they need to do better.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said cellphone service has improved as generators have been moved from tower to tower, as power is restored. He said Tuesday’s service was much better than Monday’s service when 300 towers were running out of battery backup.
Over the past two days 75 generators have been brought in to help the towers maintain power until full power is restored. As the sites received power the generators were moved to sites losing backup battery power.
AT&T spokesman Chuck Coursey said a large portion of generators were in Connecticut prior to the storm.
“Additional generators are also being deployed from other markets to Connecticut as needs in those other markets has subsided,” Coursey said. “In addition to our Connecticut-based employees, AT&T teams from throughout the country have been deployed to assist in Connecticut restoration efforts.”
Esty said before the storm hit the state felt the utilities were appropriately focused on what was likely to be an electrical outage. Their big disappointment was the crews they lined up to help Connecticut.
“What I learned from this event is that you don’t count the crews until they’re here on the ground,” Butler said Tuesday.
Crews the company had lined up to help with down wires and trees had planned to come from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Quebec. Those crews were driving to Connecticut when they received a call they would be needed back home in their own city or state, Esty said.
The truth is the scope of this disaster and the scale of outages has limited the state’s ability to get additional line crews in, Esty said.
Currently Butler said 900 tree and line crews are out working 16 hour days to restore service to the 400,000 customers without power. At the peak of the storm Sunday there were close to 800,000 CL&P customers without power.
By Friday he said there will be 1,200 crews working to restore power to CL&P customers, “the largest crew in the state’s history.” There are usually 200 line crews working for the company.
United Illuminating CEO Jim Torgerson, said there were 77,000 customers without power as of 4 p.m. Tuesday. At the peak of the storm Sunday there were 159,000 customers without power. Torgerson said UI has 240 crews with help from as far away as Wisconsin and Indiana.
Crews for CL&P came from as far away as Seattle. Butler said the contractor flew them in on chartered planes Tuesday afternoon.
Calls to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers did not return repeated calls for comment.
This evening CL& P will being to publish restoration projections on its websites, so customers if they can find internet service may be able to have an idea of when the power will be restored. The restoration will start in the western part of the state where the damage was less severe. Butler said Torrington, Falls Village, and Cheshire will have power restored by midnight on Thursday. Work in the eastern part of the state won’t stop, and while most of the power is expected to restored by Saturday, Butler said a full restoration isn‘t possible until next Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has delivered tractor trailer loads of food and water to Rentschler Field in East Hartford.
Thirty-seven towns requested food and water and there’s plenty of it to hand out. The two tractor trailers were carrying 92,160 bottles of water and 21,300 meals. Several more truckloads are expected to arrive tomorrow.
An official from the federal Energy Department will be in the state Wednesday. Richard Serino, deputy administrator of FEMA, visited the Connecticut today and spent time with Malloy at the Emergency Operations Center. Malloy said the federal government has been involved in identifying assets from around the country to move to the state.
“These are all pretty extraordinary things that we have to do on behalf of the people of the state of Connecticut who are clearly suffering as we have this conversation,” Malloy said.