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Prolonged outage generates rage toward Edison

One Pasadena man is charged with making threats as 6,100 customers remain without power. Accused of a slow response, utility says crews are working around the clock.

December 07, 2011|By Rong-Gong Lin II and Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
  • By candlelight, Tim Cutress watches a movie on a battery-operated DVD player with his son Tristan, 4. Their power was restored, but went off again.
By candlelight, Tim Cutress watches a movie on a battery-operated DVD player… (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)

Of the 6,100 Edison customers in the San Gabriel Valley still without power after last week's windstorm, few suffered like 40-year-old Tim Cutress of Altadena.

When the power came back on Sunday, Cutress celebrated along with his wife, 4-year-old son and elderly mother visiting from New Zealand. After four days of darkness, the family eagerly cleaned out their stinky refrigerator, heated up the home and bought $400 worth of groceries to replace the food that had spoiled.

"Everybody rejoices," Cutress said.

But then at 1 p.m. Monday, the power went out again. And more than 24 hours later, as the chilly darkness fell on Tuesday night, there was still no sign when the electricity would come back on.

The worst part of it, Cutress said, was that Edison kept signaling that the power was on the verge of coming back on. Every day he would use his iPhone — charged by his car engine — to check the utility's website. And each day it said the lights were expected to come on in the morning or later that day.

The other maddening part, he said, is how he hasn't been able to get answers from any senior Edison official.

"Is there somebody here of authority who can give us an idea of what the hell is going on?" he recalled asking people at the Altadena Community Center on Monday. He got a phone number for a senior Edison public affairs officer, but all he could tell Cutress was, "We're working on it." And he didn't call back Tuesday.

Cutress was one of many who were growing angrier by the hour as the blackout hitting the San Gabriel Valley entered its sixth day Tuesday.

A 73-year-old Pasadena man allegedly threatened to kill city employees if they did not restore his power, and he was arrested Tuesday morning, police said.

A day after Geoffrey Commons made threats to people on a Pasadena city hotline, he showed up at the Pasadena city manager's office, where he caused a ruckus, said Pasadena Police Lt. Rick Aversano.

"It's just gone on way too long.... If we had this from winds, what will we have when we have a really big earthquake?" asked Roy McMeen, a 69-year-old retiree in Arcadia whose power was restored Tuesday afternoon, six days after a once in a decade windstorm pummeled parts of Southern California, snapping electricity poles and pushing huge trees into homes.

McMeen said he worried for his 78-year-old neighbor; temperatures in her home fell to 53 degrees. And like Cutress, McMeen was angry that he was never given a sense of when the power would return.

"If you were to call their main line and listen to the recording, there was no update for anybody on the conditions," McMeen said. Whenever he reached a live Edison operator, they kept telling him to expect power to soon be restored — but they couldn't guarantee anything.

Public anger even boiled over at the county Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday. Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich chastised Edison officials for failing to communicate with customers who had no access to phones, radio, television or the Internet.

"You're not responding effectively," Antonovich said. "You failed during the disaster."

Edison spokeswoman Veronica Gutierrez defended the utility's response, saying that it was the worst disaster in 30 years and that there were some homes the company couldn't get to because of the debris.

An Edison statement said a major complication was reconstructing broken poles and cutting down trees that stood between them and homes. Crews have been working 24 hours a day.

Officials estimated more than $10 million in damage in Temple City and $1 million in South Pasadena. More than 1,200 trees fell in Pasadena, while 250 were downed in San Marino.

Back in Altadena, Cutress said he wished Edison had been more realistic.

After Edison promised too much and failed to deliver, they were stuck simply waiting with growing anxiety, Cutress said.

ron.lin@latimes.com

abby.sewell@latimes.com

Times staff writers Adolfo Flores, Tiffany Kelly and Angel Jennings contributed to this report.

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