1.8 million U.S. customers still without power: it could take more than a week for some utilities warn

July 3, 2012 – WASHINGTON – From North Carolina to New Jersey, nearly 1.8 million people still without electricity were asking the same question Monday evening: Why will it take so long to get the lights back on? Nearly three full days after a severe summer storm lashed the East Coast, utilities warned that many neighborhoods could remain in the dark for much of the week, if not beyond. Friday’s storm arrived with little warning and knocked out power to 3 million homes and businesses, so utility companies have had to wait days for extra crews traveling from as far away as Quebec and Oklahoma. And the toppled trees and power lines often entangled broken equipment in debris that must be removed before workers can even get started. Adding to the urgency of the repairs are the sick and elderly, who are especially vulnerable without air conditioning in the sweltering triple-digit heat. Many sought refuge in hotels or basements. Officials feared the death toll, already at 22, could climb because of the heat and widespread use of generators, which emit fumes that can be dangerous in enclosed spaces. At the Springvale Terrace nursing home and senior center in Silver Spring, Md., generators were brought in to provide electricity, and air-conditioning units were installed in windows in large common rooms to offer respite from the heat and darkness. Supermarkets struggled to keep groceries from going bad. People on perishable medication called pharmacies to see how long their medicine would keep. In Washington, officials set up collection sites for people to drop off rotting food. Others held weekend cookouts in an attempt to use their food while it lasted. And in West Virginia, National Guard troops handed out food and water and made door-to-door checks. When it comes to getting the power running again, all utilities take a top-down approach that seeks to get the largest number of people back online as quickly as possible. First, crews repair substations that send power to thousands of homes and businesses. Next, they fix distribution lines. Last are the transformers that can restore power to a few customers at a time. A Safeway supermarket trying to stay open with a limited power supply handed out free bags of dry ice. But after two days of temperatures in the 90s, the air inside was stale. Shopping carts with spoiled food, buzzing with flies, sat outside the store. –Durango Herald
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