The head of PSE&G, the utility with more than 1.2 million New Jersey customers left in the dark by Hurricane Sandy, says it may take a week or more to get power restored to all of them.
In a morning briefing, PSE&G President Ralph LaRossa said the company has about 1,300 employees out assessing the damage and repairing lines from the “biggest storm” PSE&G has ever seen.
He says the utility is focusing on getting the main power lines restored first, then moving on to smaller neighborhoods and streets.
“We will ramp up pretty quickly the number of customers restored,” says Larossa, “That’s our normal process here. But certainly there will be stragglers that will be last and well past the seven days.”
According to LaRossa, faster repairs will be seen in major cities like Newark and Jersey City, which may be back in a day or so.
The Jersey Shore is recovering from the major blow received as Sandy roared ashore Monday night. The Category 1 hurricane eradicated beaches, obliterated dunes, stranded stragglers and darkened millions of homes.
This morning, bulldozers are trying to push the sand back toward the beaches, and officials are assessing damage that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie termed “incalculable.”
This morning on the Today show, Christie reported that at least three people died in the Garden State as Sandy ravaged the Jersey Shore from end to end.
Associated Press reports a total death toll of 18 in the eastern United States.
Both the Reuters and Bloomberg news services interviewed insurance industry sources who said East Coast damages from Sandy will outstrip those caused in August 2011 by Irene, and could reach $8 billion.
Christie said a total of 2.4 million households in New Jersey are without power, twice the number from Irene.
SEPTA getting back to business
As of noon, SEPTA restored service on the Broad Street subway line, the Market-Frankford line and 80 percent of bus routes in the city and some routes in the suburbs.
All Regional Rail service is still suspended. SEPTA officials said they are cautiously optimistic that they can restores two lines, the Media and Airport routes, by tomorrow. The other lines have too much damage, mostly downed trees, which SEPTA crews are working to fix.
SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey defended the agency’s decision to shut down service, saying safety had to be the top priority.
Mayor Nutter applauded SEPTA’s return to partial service as a strong effort.
Bridges across the Delaware are now open. So is Philadelphia International Airport, but flights will return to normal slowly, beginning this afternoon. The airport advises everyone hoping to fly out of Philadephia today or tomorrow to call their airline to check on flight status.
PATCO and NJ Transit service is still suspended.
Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said the service has crews out assessing the damage in daylight. There are power lines down and trees across the tracks in some areas. Amtrak thinks limited service may return on Wednesday.
Eyes on New Jersey
WHYY/NewsWorks’ Alan Tu and Tom McDonald were up early today, touring storm-ravaged sections of South Jersey.
Tu traveled from Princeton through Burlington and Camden Counties down to the Salem nuclear power plant and Cumberland County. Here’s his report:
“Mercer County had many large trees felled, but flooding was surprisingly light. Even flood-prone roads were spared. The Delaware was higher than usual at Bordentown, but well within its banks.
“The scenes in Cherry Hill, Lawncrest and Magnolia were similar: Downed trees and branches, but less damage than one might expect the morning after a hurricane passed through. Power outages are widespread, though.
“At the Salem plant, one reactor is offline this morning at the Salem Nuclear Power plant. Coastal flooding apparently caused four of six water pumps to fail. The pumps draw water from the Delaware River and cool the nuclear fuel.
“The main access road to the plant was temporarily submerged during high tide overnight.Work crews this morning were bringing in more rocks to reinforce the road.
“At noon, Bridgeton was sprinkled with light rain and cold winds. Again, visible damage is light but many have lost power. Most stores are open, though.”
WHYY/NewsWorks’ Tom McDonald was on the dawn patrol in Atlantic City, Ventor, Margate, Longport and Somers Point today. Here’s his report:
“For the most part the casinos in Atlantic City seem fine from what I can see. They used sandbags heavily. there’s some wind damage in the casinos area. Some bus shelters were blown down.
“Flooding in the south end of Atlantic City was minimal. On the north end, it was much worse, near Revel and where the boardwalk was washed away.
“Heading through Ventnor, Margate, and Longport, the wind damage is heavy.
“One woman on a beach block whom I talked to said she experienced 10 feet of water. She said it was up to within two feet of her deck, and her deck has to be 12 feet up in the air.
“There is no beach in Ventnor; water laps all the way up to the boardwalk. In Ventnor, and it’s just the same in Margart and Longport, the ocean carried beach sand right over the boardwalks onto the streets. Any street parallel to the board walk is covered in 3-to-6 inches of sand.
“At Anchorage Point, a paddle wheel boat was lifted right out of the water and is sitting on the beach.
“The road between Longport and Ocean City is not passable; telephone poles are down.
“The bridge to Ocean City is impassable. The storm lifted the rocks in the seawall right onto the highway going to the bridge. We’re talking about 500-pound boulders sitting right in the road. .
“And this is something! At Somers Point, the fishing pier off of New Jersey Avenue, it’s just sitting in the bay.
“Generally, the area is not totally deserted. There are people milling about, looking at the damage.”
The entire length of the Garden State Parkway has reopened. A 129-mile stretch was closed in both directions from Woodbridge to the southern terminus because of flooding caused by Sandy.
Southbound lanes on the New Jersey Turnpike are closed between Exits 10 and 14. The Lincoln Tunnel is open. The Holland Tunnel is closed under further notice. The George Washington Bridge, Goethals Bridge, Bayonne Bridge and Outerbridge Crossing are closed until further notice.
Schools are closed today throughout New Jersey.
Ocean City School District, where there were reports last night of flooded school buildings, will keep its schools closed again tomorrow, said Richard Stepura, Cape May County’s interim executive superintendent. The 15 other school districts in Cape May County will all have to make individual determinations today, Stepura added.
“Each individual community will have to assess if there are any flooding conditions that still exist,” he said. “They have to check out their buildings to see if there’s any damage or not and to see if they’ve been affected by power outages. All that will be assessed today to make a determination for tomorrow.”
The Philly scene
In Philadelphia, the city is quiet and perhaps a bit relieved, with damages so far light compared to the Shore and New York City.
To this point, the flood-prone Schuylkill is staying within its banks in Manayunk and East Falls.
To anyone in lightly hit areas who thinks that metereologists and officials hyped the storm threat, here’s what Accuweather’s Elliot Abrams has to say: You’re wrong.
Sandy still was quite a storm, he said. Some areas just were luckier than others.
“It produced gale force winds, some gusted past 60 miles per hour,” he said. “Around the region, hundreds of thousands of people lost power. There’s tremendous damage. downtown Atlantic City was covered with water.”
Abrams says many will still feel gusty winds and showers today, with the possibility of falling branches. Utility companies are working to restore service, but warned it could take days.
Outages, shelters, transit
PECO reports a record number of outages in its service territory: 585,000 customers.
Hardest hit was Bucks County, with 185,000 outages. Montgomery County has about 175,000; Delaware Couny, 86,000; Chester County, 74,000, and Philadelphia with 65,000.
The storm shelter set up at Cheltenham High School has been closed due to a power outage. In Montgomery County, shelters at Pottstown and Norristown high schools remain open.
Red Cross reports that 619 people and 53 pets were in its shelters around the Philadelphia region as of midnight. The biggest group is at West Philadelphia High School, where 243 people sought shelter. Avon Grove High School in Chester County has a big group, with 58 people.
The city reported that it has received 16,000 calls on its 311 non-emergency line since yesterday. Normal Monday traffic is about 4,500 calls.
The Delaware aftermath
Much of the damage from Sandy in Delaware was confined to the coastal areas and sections of the state prone to flooding, but Gov. Jack Markell says the state was spared the brunt of the storm.
As a result the state has eased its driving restrictions back to a level 1, which is where the state was before the storm. That means there has to be a safety, emergency or business to be on the road.
The governor warned that people who were left their home because of an evacuation order or because of flooding should not attempt to go back on Tuesday. He said it still wasn’t safe to do so. One of the hardest hit areas was Route 1 in Dewey. DelDOT officials said it would be another 24 hours before the road could be open. A lot of sand was blown on to the road.
DART First State has announced that buses will be running on a Saturday schedule today.
About 40,000 Delmarva Power customers, most in New Castle County, remain without power. Markell had no estimate when power would be restored; wind gusts had to subside so that it was safe for workers to go up in cranes to check lines. About 900 people are in shelters around Delaware.