EAST HILLS, N.Y. -- A nor'easter's wind, snow and rain swept through Long Island, N.Y., with pitiless severity on Wednesday night, plunging an additional 123,000 people into the dark after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the area last week. The Long Island Power Authority said the new storm's damage will also complicate efforts to restore power to the 171,000 who were still waiting for service 10 days after Hurricane Sandy struck, dozens of whom were sheltering from the cold in a village hall here on Wednesday night.
Across the entire region battered by Sandy, there were 715,205 without power as of Thursday morning due to the hurricane and nor'easter, according to a U.S. Department of Energy situation report.
In East Hills, as residents chatted and snacked on pizza in a common room, their mayor was in his office a short distance away performing a twice-daily ritual with what is quickly becoming the island's public enemy number one: the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). That conference call, one of two a day LIPA is now holding with elected officials, offered a window into the frustrations shared by many here on the island and throughout the northeast as they struggle for answers with when basic utilities will return.
East Hills' mayor, Michael Koblenz, is a silver-haired, blunt-spoken corporate litigator who has presided over this hamlet of 7,000 since 1994. As he heard a LIPA executive explain the need to "recalibrate" restoration efforts and dismiss a "persistent rumor" that the utility did not have enough materials on hand, Koblenz could barely contain his disdain.
"Bullshit," he uttered under his breath more than once during the call. About those material shortages, Koblenz added, "We've seen it." He had seen with his own eyes utility trucks with one replacement pole instead of the many he thought they should have been carrying, Koblenz told HuffPost.
The tone of elected officials on the Thursday call came through loud and clear: We've had enough. Koblenz and the mayors of 26 separate other villages on Long Island were so fed up that on Monday they penned a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on behalf of the "thousands of irate New York State residents."
That letter detailed "repeated un-kept and deceptive promises of manpower and equipment," "LIPA's inefficiency, dysfunctional manner, and especially its lack of candor," and said the threats to "our health and safety ... cannot be tolerated any further."
"It only took seven days to create the Earth," Koblenz said. "On the eighth day we sent the letter."
LIPA has been here before. After Hurricane Irene created widespread outages on Long Island in 2011, Cuomo ordered a review of the utility company's practices that resulted in a report slamming its post-storm communication with customers. The utility provider said this year that it was doing everything possible to prepare for Hurricane Sandy.
Restoration, however, has been a rocky process. Cuomo has put the utility companies on notice that he might be willing to take the dramatic step of revoking their licenses if another investigation knocks their handling of this storm, although it is unclear whether that would ultimately hasten service restoration times.
LIPA, for its part, has countered that it is doing the best it can under difficult circumstances. More than 1 million LIPA customers were powerless at the height of the Sandy-related outages, the company said on its site, and it has also been contending with water damage caused by powerful storm surges on Long Island's South Shore.
LIPA did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
The Long Island utility company's struggles, moreover, are far from unique. Tens of thousands of people in New York City and in upstate New York were experiencing similar frustrations with Con Ed, and an even greater percentage of New Jersey residents were holding their breath for Public Service Electric and Gas, Jersey Central Power & Light, Atlantic City Electric, and Orange & Rockland to put the lights back on in their homes.
"Since this morning we have been back in full restoration mode and assessing damage," LIPA said on its website on Thursday. "This recent storm will have some impact on restoration efforts, but all of our crews are prepared to work in these types of conditions. Rest assured that we will continue to work as long as, and whenever, it is safe to do so."
LIPA has called in more than 14,000 restoration workers to do battle with downed trees and wires, it said on its website. The Long Island Expressway was clogged on Wednesday night with tree-cutting trucks with Indiana license plates and Con Ed and National Grid vans pitching in to help remove downed trees -- but so far, all those extra hands have not been enough.
"You've got trucks sitting here from Alabama," Koblenz said. "Nice guys, no instructions. They haven't learned a thing from Irene."
East Hills residents sheltering at the local village hall on Wednesday night -- many of whom where seniors -- expressed similar frustration with LIPA. The village hall is powered by a generator put in place by Koblenz before the storm struck. For some residents, it is the only place around where they can warm up or take a hot shower.
On Wednesday night, as the nor'easter dumped five inches of snow on the island and temperatures dipped several degrees below freezing, those inside the village hall said that perhaps worse than the cold was the demoralizing feeling of being ignored.
"We're attempting to sleep at home," said Sidney Kugler, who was stationed in the village hall that has become an impromptu shelter for residents during the day. But no matter how many blankets he piled on at night, Kugler said, he was still dealing with an inescapable fact: "It is brutally cold."
East Hills resident Arthur Schoenberger said that until three days ago, he was actually able to get through to a human being when he called LIPA -- now he had no such luck. "They stopped answering," he said. "That's finished."
Schoenberger and his fellow East Hills citizens have been "abandoned," he said, by the "total incompetence on the part of management."
"It's 1750 living," he said.