Residents remain upset at windstorm's mass outages

AP News
Posted: Dec 08, 2011 6:14 PM
Residents remain upset at windstorm's mass outages

The power is back on but the outrage remains.

More than a week after a ferocious windstorm cut power throughout the region, Southern California Edison said Thursday it had finally restored power to the last customers left in the dark and cold, some for nearly a week.

New figures indicated that a total of 643,000 households and businesses in the region had lost power during the storm on Nov. 30 that unleashed winds approaching 100 mph.

Edison had 434,000 customers without power, while other utilities reported more than 200,000 of their customers also lost electricity.

The state Public Utilities Commission said it would investigate the cause of the outages and the length of time Edison took to respond to safety-related calls. Edison could face fines or penalties.

The company said it would cooperate fully with investigators, and its president issued an apology to customers.

Residents and government officials have sharply criticized all the utility companies involved in outages. In Pasadena, one of the hardest hit areas, residents of one neighborhood called, emailed and went to City Hall to complain. Karl Maier called for the resignation of the general manager of the city's Water and Power Department.

Maier said he moved to Pasadena from Long Island, N.Y., where hurricanes, blizzards and ice storms never left residents without power for such a long time. Power to his home was restored Wednesday, a week after the storm hit.

"It came back on after I and a bunch of neighbors kicked and screamed and hollered," he said, adding that it was 49 degrees in his home every morning. "I would say six and a half days is completely unacceptable. The question is what kind of worst case planning have they done."

Headaches continued, even for those who had their power restored days earlier.

Temple City resident Diane Johnson said she finally got most of the debris cleaned up after a giant city tree fell in front of her home, trapping her inside and crushing the family's three cars. Johnson, who is on disability, has been taking the bus to doctor's appointments, and her son has been using public transportation to get to school.

"The power is restored, but the cars are still there and I don't think the city is going to pay," she said. "The city is saying the same thing to everyone _ that it was an act of nature."

A preliminary estimate of damage and cleanup costs approached $20 million in Pasadena alone, said Lisa Derderian, the city's emergency management coordinator. A dozen buildings were red-tagged as uninhabitable, including a 41-unit apartment complex smashed by a 70-foot tree that also hit a main water line, flooding nearly every unit.

The San Gabriel Valley city of Monterey Park estimated its damage and cleanup costs at $500,000, while the foothill community of Glendora estimated cleanup costs alone at about $300,000. In areas serviced by the county Department of Public Works a preliminary estimate put damage and cleanup costs at $3.8 million.

Some political officials questioned whether the delays showed local utility companies were unprepared for a major earthquake.

Edison initially promised to restore power within 48 hours after the storm. As outages dragged on for several days, however, company employees began refusing to tell residents when it might be back.

Company officials say an estimated 276 restoration crews and 1,000 support crews came from other parts of the state to help out, but on Wednesday, a week after the storm, more than 500 customers were still without power. In Pasadena, about 75 customers remained without power on Thursday.

Edison, which has more than 14 million customers, blamed the delays on unprecedented damage that included thousands of downed power lines and toppled trees that blocked roads.