Outages Pile on Misery for 1.6 Million Coping With Pandemic

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Dozens of people forced to work from home because of the coronavirus lined up outside a library in a Connecticut suburb on Thursday, desperate for internet and a place to charge their laptops.

A food pantry just west of Atlantic City in New Jersey, which had already been feeding people who had lost their jobs in the pandemic, is now helping those whose food had spoiled in refrigerators with no power.

In another New Jersey suburb, a plastic surgeon who reopened his office in June had to close again when his electricity was knocked out.

Two days after Tropical Storm Isaias tore through the region, more than 1.6 million customers were still without power, and some could be in the dark into next week in what is emerging as the worst natural disaster to hit the area since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Sandy was a far bigger calamity in terms of lives lost and the scope of destruction. But this time the storm arrived in the middle of a pandemic, bringing a new kind of misery to people who already felt as if they were just barely coping.

Struggling businesses now faced costly repairs from storm damage. Residents who had sought refuge from the virus at home were not sure when phone service or air conditioning would return, and some risked temporarily moving in with others who still had power or internet. Food, gas and generators grew scarce as many prepared for extended hardship.

“It’s just one more thing,” said Dr. Barry Citron, the plastic surgeon, who also is certified in anesthesiology and internal medicine. Dr. Citron had worked in April at a field hospital in the Meadowlands sports complex that was set up to treat patients during the height of the pandemic in New Jersey.

“This year is not good,” he said. “A storm shutting down the office is not that hard to weather, but it’s just that it’s this year. We want it to be over.”

The length of the power losses would probably fall short of those that were caused by the hurricane, which left some places were without power for weeks. Still, utility companies were struggling to get through a tangled of toppled trees in a region where much of the power is provided by overhead lines.

In Connecticut, which appeared to be more severely affected than New York or New Jersey, the main electric supplier, Eversource, said it could take several days to restore power to more than 500,000 of its 1.2 million electric customers. Officials said that they were till assessing the damage and that some neighborhoods were still impassable.

About 150,000 Con Edison customers in New York City and Westchester County were still without power, and some of them might not get it back until Sunday night, said Jamie McShane, a spokesman for the utility.

In New Jersey, Public Service Electric and Gas said on Thursday it was working to restore power for about 140,000 customers, but said some restorations might not be complete until Monday.

“The restoration is moving safely and quickly,” said Lauren Ugorji, a spokeswoman for the utility. “I know it doesn’t feel like it for most people who are still out. For us, bringing back hundreds of thousands of people in one or two days is really a lot of intense dedicated work.”

The pace of restoration has prompted an angry response from public officials. Both Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and the top regulator in Connecticut have said they will investigate utilities’ preparation for the storm.

“We were disappointed that they didn’t have more guys on the ground ready to go,” Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut said. “We have some catching up to do. We’re going to hold their feet to the fire until we’re caught up.”

Kevin Armstrong, Peter Blair, Arielle Dollinger, Juliana Kim, Patrick McGeehan, Nate Schweber and Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.

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