Downed trees and wires in Brick Church Road in New Hempstead, NY on Nov. 1 2011
Rockland County, NY - While most news reports on the power outages following Saturday’s storm seem to be focused on the massive power outages in Connecticut and New Jersey, many areas in Rockland County, the smallest county in the state outside of New York City, are still without power and many residents are frustrated and angry with their local utility, Orange and Rockland, for both their inaction following the storm and their refusal to communicate clearly not only with customers but even with elected officials.
“Communication is sorely lacking here,” Ron Levine, Director of Communications for County Executive Scott Vanderhoef “One would think that a massive weather event like this would call for some sort of plan but so far their responses seem to be spontaneous at best.
Even in their daily municipal briefings, O&R officials tell us that there are trucks out working, but they refuse to tell us the exact location of those trucks and there is almost no one out there who has seen an O&R truck.”
Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, who yesterday called on the New York State Public Services Commission to suspend a requested rake hike by the utility company, said that he had similar experiences with Orange and Rockland.
“I asked O&R where their trucks were cruising. I told them I wanted to go over to their workers and shake their hands to thank them for the job that they are doing. They told me that because the trucks belonged to other contractors I wouldn’t be able to recognize them. What, I don’t know what an electrical truck looks like?” asked St. Lawrence incredulously.
St. Lawrence told that he instructed the Ramapo Police to let him know if they spotted any O&R trucks while they were out on the streets of Ramapo. According to St. Lawrence, not a single officer called in a sighting of an O&R truck.
Both Levine and St. Lawrence were adamant that they have no vendettas against the utility company but are frustrated by the lack of communication and service being provided by the many Rockland County residents, some of whom have been without any electricity since Saturday.
Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmine says that while years ago Orange and Rockland used to provide prompt service, the utility does not seem to have the manpower to satisfy the needs of the county and her office has been receiving countless complaints about the utility.
“I am very upset and perturbed by the service provided to the residents of Spring Valley. People keep calling O&R but no one can get through. Even after the deaths we experienced in our village during Hurricane Irene, there are still downed power lines everywhere and I haven’t seen one O&R truck anywhere yet.”
While O&R estimated this morning that 20,598 customers in Rockland County were still without service, Mayor Jasmine was quick to point out that many customers in the area have large families which means the actual number of people living without electricity is considerably higher. Additionally, many families have elderly members and/or very small children who are particularly vulnerable to the persistent cold temperatures.
Meanwhile, weary residents are doing their best to cope under very trying conditions. Many have moved in with friends or relatives who haven’t been affected by the storm and others have bought or borrowed propane heaters or generators. The local Lowes in Nanuet, New York reports that there were still a few generators available for sale at the hefty price of $5,500, which does not include installation.
Local restaurants are enjoying a surge in business as many residents no longer have usable cooking facilities or even water, according to Shmuel Klaver, manager of the Purple Pear in Monsey.
“Our business this week has been triple what it normally is,” said Klaver. “We had to open up the party room in the back of the restaurant to accommodate the overflow crowd and there is still a line out the door throughout the day.”
Repeated attempts to reach Orange and Rockland to comment on the situation have proven fruitless and the message on the utility’s site warns callers that not all calls can be answered due to the high volume of calls. As of 10 AM this morning the O&R website reports that more than 65% of the 130,000 customers affected by the storm have had their power restored and they are hopeful that 90% of their customers should be back online by midnight Thursday night, with the remainder of service expected to be restored over the weekend. O&R is continuing dry ice distribution to residents in the county from 2 to 4 PM this afternoon and again tonight from 6 to 8 PM and the Boulders Ball Park in Pomona.
While some customers may have had their power restored, in the town of Ramapo, home of Rockland County’s Orthodox population, the number of customers without power today is not drastically different than yesterday’s number, according to St. Lawrence, who faulted the utility for their lack of preparedness, particularly after two lives were taken by a downed power line during Hurricane Irene.
“Enough is enough,” said St. Lawrence. “Provide us with service we pay for and deserve. When O&R does a good job, I am the first to congratulate them. When they don’t do a good job, it isn’t unfair of me to call them on it.”
The County Executive’s office has opened a shelter and a warming area at the Rockland Community College Field House which will be open again tonight. According to Levine, he hopes this will alleviate conditions for residents in the area, many of whom have called his office in anger and in tears.
“They try to get in touch with O&R but either they get no information or incorrect information. Assurances that Orange and Rockland gives people simply don’t weight. We are between disappointed and outraged and quite frankly, we are much closer to outraged.”