3.7M without power; records shattered in N.J., Pa.

Posted: October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sandy was a "Frankenstorm" in terms of power outages, leaving more than 2.5 million homes and businesses in New Jersey in the dark as of midday, and another 1.2 million in Pennsylvania.

And that 3.7 million doesn't include the restoration of power to many others, including more than 260,000 Peco customers in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Peco's totals easily surpass the onslaughts of an ice storm in 1994 and Hurricanes Isabel in 2003 and Irene last year.

As of early afternoon, 550,000 Peco customers were in the dark, a decline of 35,000 since dawn. But even with a thousand out-of-state personnel - from as far away as Kentucky and Tennessee - doubling the size of Peco's workforce out in the field, full restoration might not happen by Election Day.

"We think that the work will take up to a week," said Peco spokeswoman Liz Williamson.

More than 800,000 Peco customers lost power at some point during the storm, shattering the ice storm's record of 520,000. "This is definitely historic and record-breaking for us," Williamson said.

Across the Delaware River, in South Jersey, outages were even more staggering.

Early this afternoon, PSE&G increasing its record total to 1.4 million customers off-line, up 200,000 since 7 a.m., when the count included 63,000 in Burlington County and 23,000 in Camden County. The utility's territory is a band running from a small part of Gloucester County to the northern end of the state.

The job is far more complicated than removing trees, fixing poles and restringing wires.

"The walls of water created by the storm surge flooded a large number of substations along the Passaic, Raritan and Hudson Rivers" in North Jersey, according to a company news release. "... PSE&G had to take these stations out of service and will have to wait for the flood waters to recede before we can assess the damage, dry out the equipment, replace equipment when necessary and re-energize the system to restore service. It will be a slow, painstaking process."

Jersey Central Power & Light's service was also devastated by Sandy, with 965,000 homes and businesses - nearly 90 percent of its 1.09 million customers - knocked off the grid by the storm. That midday number was up by more than 20,000 from this morning. Not surprisingly, hardest hit were the coastal counties of Ocean (206,000) and Monmouth (245,000), according to the utility's website.

Atlantic City Electric, which serves the biggest portion of South Jersey - from Gloucester County to Long Beach Island - was reporting about 181,000 outages early this afternoon. It was slight drop from the morning, but totals actually rose in the two hardest counties, Atlantic, with about 81,000 customers out, and Ocean with 59,000.

Indeed, much of South Jersey took on an eerie feel early with large swaths of towns darkened. Streets were littered with downed trees, branches and utility lines. Many roads were closed. Street lights were out at various major intersections.

In southeastern Pa., the majority of the outages were in Bucks and Montgomery Counties. As of early afternoon in Bucks, 190,000 were without power, 170,000 in Montgomery County, 65,000 in Delaware County, 60,000 in Chester County and 65,000 in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania's total was more than 1.2 million, with Lehigh and Northampton Counties also having more than 100,000 outages each.

As of early afternoon, PPL Electric was reporting 384,000 outages in 28 counties, an improvement of about 17,000 from about 8 a.m. Afternoon totals included 22,000 in Bucks County, 10,000 in Montgomery, 117,000 in Lehigh County, 60,000 in Northampton, and 45,000 in Monroe.

First Energy companies, including Met Ed, had 224,000 customers without power across the state, a decline of nearly 40,000 from several hours earlier. Berks Count was down to 55,000 from 67,000. Northampton County had 57,000 out, Bucks another 6,000.

Delmarva Power & Light was reporting another 44,000 outages in Delaware and Eastern Maryland, well down from about 77,000 this morning. More of that drop was in Delaware's northernmost county, New Castle County, with was down to about 15,000 just before 2 p.m. from 40,000 this morning.

After restoring power to substations and essential services, such as hospitals, utilities generally tackle the biggest outages first, Williamson explained.

That means the number could sharply decline over the next couple of days, only to have a staggering number of small jobs take much longer to complete.

For example, the 44,000 customers Delmarva Power has left represent more than 1,200 separate problems -- an average of about 40 homes or businesses per repair job. while sister utility Atlantic City Electric was still averaging about 90 customers for its remaining 2,100 jobs.

To report a local outage to Peco in the Philadelphia vicinity, or a problem with downed wires, call 1-800-841-4141. Always assume any wire or piece of equipment is live, and stay away, she advised

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