Donations are stored and distributed in the Saint Francis de Sales school gymnasium in the Rockaways, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, in the Queens borough of New York. Despite power returning to many neighborhoods in the metropolitan area after Superstorm Sandy crashed into the Eastern Seaboard, many residents of the Rockaways continue to live without power and heat due to damage caused by Sandy.(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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NEW YORK (AP) — New Yorkers railed against a utility company that has lagged behind others in restoring power two weeks after Superstorm Sandy socked the region, criticizing its slow pace as well as a dearth of information.
About 120,000 customers in New York and New Jersey remained without power Sunday, including tens of thousands of homes and businesses that were too damaged to connect to power even if it was running in their neighborhood. More than 8 million lost power during the superstorm, and some during a later nor'easter storm.
Separately, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano visited with disaster-relief workers Sunday in the borough of Staten Island's Midland Beach neighborhood, which is still devastated two weeks after Sandy hit.
The lack of power restoration for a relative few in the densely populated region at the heart of the storm reinforced Sandy's fractured effect on the area: tragic and vicious to some, merely a nuisance to others.
Perhaps none of the utilities have drawn criticism as widespread, or as harsh, as the Long Island Power Authority. Nearly 50,000 of the homes and businesses it serves were still without power Sunday evening, and 55,000 more couldn't safely connect even though their local grids were back online because their wiring and other equipment had been flooded. It would need to be repaired or inspected before those homes could regain power, LIPA said.
"We certainly understand the frustration that's out there," LIPA's chief operating officer, Michael Hervey, said in a conference call late Sunday. But, he said, the storm had been worse than expected, no utility had as many workers in place beforehand as it would have liked, and the power was coming back rapidly "compared to the damage that's been incurred."
Customers told of calling LIPA multiple times a day for updates and getting no answer, or contradictory advice.
"I was so disgusted the other night," said Carrie Baram of Baldwin Harbor, on Long Island, who said she calls the utility three times a day. "I was up till midnight, but nobody bothered to answer the telephone."
Baram, 56, said she and her husband, Bob, go to the mall to charge their cellphones, and Bob, a sales manager, goes there to work. They trekked to her parents' house to shower. At night, they huddle under a pile of blankets and listen to the sound of fire engines, which Baram assumes are blaring because people have been accidentally setting blazes with their generators.
"It's dark," said an exasperated Baram, "it's frightening, and it's freezing."
LIPA has said it knows that customers aren't getting the information they need, partly because of an outdated information technology system that it is updating. On Sunday, executives said they were working on setting up information centers near the most heavily damaged areas. The company also said it had deployed 6,400 linemen to work on restoring power, compared to 200 on a normal day.
"'They're working on it, they're working on it' — that would be their common response," Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said Sunday, describing LIPA's interaction with his office.
Mangano and other lawmakers have called for the federal government to step in and assist with restoring power to Long Island, saying LIPA could not be trusted to get the job done.
On Sunday, LIPA said it had restored power to 95 percent of homes and businesses where it was safe to receive power and that that figure would be 99 percent by the end of Tuesday. It didn't give an estimate for the remaining customers.
In New York City, the mayor's office said about 6,000 residents of low-income housing were still without power in 30 buildings.
Police raised the city's death toll from the storm to 43, after the death of a 77-year-old retired custodian who apparently fell down the stairs of his apartment building in the Rockaways, when it was dark and without power. Family members found him on Oct. 31; he died at a hospital Saturday.
Though New York and New Jersey bore the brunt of the destruction, at its peak, the storm reached 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across, killed more than 100 people in 10 states, knocked out power to 8.5 million and canceled nearly 20,000 flights. More than 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain fell in Easton, Maryland, and 34 inches (86 centimeters) of snow fell in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Damage has been estimated at $50 billion, making Sandy the second most expensive storm in U.S. history, behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.