NEW YORK -- The double hit of Superstorm Sandy and an early season nor’easter could cost New York state up to $33 billion, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who called utility companies' response to the emergency a “failure.”
Nearly 300,000 New Yorkers still had no electricity Thursday morning, and about a third of metropolitan New York’s gas stations do not have gas. A nor’easter storm that brought high winds, freezing temperatures and piles of snow has slowed the region’s recovery effort and made a “bad situation worse,” Cuomo said at a televised news conference.
The cost of coming back – from Maine to the Carolinas and inland to the Ohio Valley – could reach $50 billion, he estimated.
Sandy highlighted the vulnerabilities of the state’s electrical grid and oil commerce, Cuomo said.
FULL COVERAGE: East Coast hit by deadly storm
“I believe they were unprepared, I believe the system is archaic,” Cuomo said of the utility companies. “Part of it is the fact these utilities are a monopoly. You’re unhappy with a utility company, who do you fire? It’s a nameless, faceless bureaucracy.”
Representatives from National Grid U.S. and the Long Island Power Authority, two major New York utilities, did not immediately return calls for comment.
A spokeswoman for Con Edison, which supplies all of New York City, said “our focus continues on our massive and unprecedented restoration effort. We appreciate the state’s leadership and assistance.”
The powerful Sandy devastated seaside towns in New Jersey and New York, was responsible for more than 110 deaths and forced the shutdown of oil refineries and terminals in the region.
Thousands of utility workers from companies across the country have flown into the region to help repair the power grid, where local utility companies have been using up months-worth of stored equipment in days. Long Island, one of the hardest hit areas from the two storms, has thousands without electricity. It could be days if not another week at least before power is back.
The Long Island Power Authority reported that repairs were slowed because of the nor’easter, and crews have to go house to house assessing the damage before reconnecting utilities.
“They ran out of power poles. You think poles would be something a utility company would want to have,” Cuomo snapped at the news conference. “They have failed consumers. The management has failed consumers. It is that simple…. We gave them a franchise. They represented themselves as experts at doing this and they failed and they should be held accountable for their failure.”
Residents there have started an online petition to have the state end its contract with the Long Island Power Authority.
INTERACTIVE: Before and after Sandy
Relief agencies that were forced to shutter operations in Wednesday’s nor’easter reopened in sunny but brisk conditions Thursday afternoon in Staten Island, hard-hit by Sandy.
Before four inches of snow fell in the Staten Island beach-side community of New Dorp, the Federal Emergency Management Agency abandoned a tent where it had been seeing about 300 claim applicants a day, said Clete Strayer, manager of the agency’s disaster recovery center here.
On Thursday, next to a snow-crusted field, Sandy victims again lined up for relief supplies, warm meals and insurance consultations as FEMA staff reinstalled tables and heating units to resume work.
“We’re fine if Mother Nature leaves us alone,” Strayer said.
If the snow was a nuisance for relief operations, it was not as bad as many weather-worn residents had feared.
Cuomo said it will take months to get New York back to normal. Restoring power and reconnecting the veins of oil distribution are the short-term issues. But New Yorkers are going to have to rethink about how ruined towns should be rebuilt, he said.
“When we built New York, we didn’t think about floods, about storms. We didn’t have hurricanes and floods,” the governor said. “Extreme weather is here to stay. Climate change is a reality. Political gridlock has held us back too long…. Maybe Mother Nature is telling us something. One time, two times, three times. There are places that are going to be victimized by storms. We know that now.”
Residents of blue-collar Staten Island have left their battered communities for shelters or the homes of others. In Midland Beach, Norma McCarthy, a mother of two teenage boys, said she remained in her flooded home because her relatives’ homes in New Jersey and Queens also were without power.
“We don’t really have anywhere else to go,” McCarthy said.