By Karl Grossman
What an ordeal for so many! Indeed, as of this writing Friday, as a result of Hurricane Irene electricity still had not returned to 78,000 customers — homes and businesses — of the Long Island Power Authority.
Without electricity and all that it powers, it became the Long Island Frontier. Some 523,000 LIPA customers, well more than a million people, lost electricity. There was no running water for many and, especially vexing, none of the hot variety, a source of days of grunginess. Many people could not cook food. What we’ve come to expect as the necessities of life, gone.
Trees down on houses. Roads blocked by fallen trees, strewn with branches. Business and normal life in general, fully disrupted. And this because of what was headlined as “a glancing blow” of a hurricane.
Much wrath is being directed at LIPA. State Senator Kenneth LaValle of Port Jefferson gives “LIPA an F” for restoring service in Irene’s wake.
A point of comparison is Hurricane Gloria in 1985. Based on the performance of the Long Island Lighting Company after that hurricane, LIPA, its successor, has been better — although that’s not saying much considering the deeply dysfunctional LILCO.
As Mike Loos of Noyac said in a quote that began a book that I wrote, published the next year, about LILCO and its nuclear power plans, Power Crazy, Gloria “wasn’t that severe but…a good thunderstorm and LILCO goes out. I’ve never experienced such regular losses of electricity before moving out to Long Island.”
Electricity was out for more than a week after Gloria — and affected 80 percent of LILCO’s customers, nearly 800,000 homes and businesses, well more than two million people.
A key problem is Long Island having an electrical system based on above-ground wires and poles, as I’ve noted through the years. Hurricane-force winds easily send wires and poles down and falling trees topple them. Undergrounding, as the telephone company has done for most of its lines on Long Island, is far more sensible.
But the corporate executives of LILCO and now the politically-appointed board members of state-created LIPA have insisted this is too expensive. But what about the massive costs of restoration after hurricanes? It’s high time that undergrounding of electric lines happen on Long Island on a widespread scale.
Going from the big to the small, I found, and suspect others did, too, that what came through best with Hurricane Irene were smaller institutions and regular people helping other people.
In the midst of the Hurricane Gloria black-out, we bought a generator. Even though we had it checked out a few years ago, when it came time to pull the starter cord after losing electricity Sunday, nothing happened. But the folks at Loper’s Equipment in East Quogue — where I stood on line 26 years ago to buy the machine — said Monday morning they’d work on it first-thing. And, mechanic Mynor Cortava, with a smile, did just that, cleaning the carburetor and getting it going once again. Having that generator kept our refrigerator and freezer humming and the lights on. I’d recommend generators.
I feared for my sailboat and with a tide causing waters to rise five feet or so, what to do? Old salt Howard Pickerell of Water Mill, boatbuilder and fisherman, said what was necessary was a heavy anchor dug in way out in front of the boat along with stern lines to the floating dock. In his little skiff, he dropped anchors for me and other sailboat owners at the Peconic Marina — and our boats were unscathed.
An amazing device that worked throughout the storm: an iPhone. My regular Internet and e-mail service is still out, but that Apple iPhone from Verizon has been able to smoothly deliver and transmit e-mails and it remained connected to the Internet. Hooray Steve Jobs!
Irene has been a painful learning experience. A tree came down on the house of friends whose insurance company said because Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm when the tree fell, there’d be a $1,000 deductible to repair the house. If Irene had still been categorized as a hurricane when the tree came down, then a complex formula would need to be applied involving the value of the house resulting in a $15,000 deductible for their modest home, they were told. It would be good for us all to review our insurance policies before the next hurricane strikes. That, unfortunately, is a certainty.