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About 130,000 Still Without Power After Storms

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One of many power lines in Park Ridge that must be fixed by ComEd before all customers have their electricity restored. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 07/13/11 10:10 p.m.

PARK RIDGE, Ill. (CBS) — More than 130,000 ComEd customers were without power Wednesday night following the storms earlier in the week.

As of 9 p.m. Wednesday, 132,000 ComEd customers were still without power, while more than 718,000 customers had power restored since the start of the storm. At the peak, more than 850,000 customers lost service after Monday’s storm.

ComEd spokesman Paul Elsberg said more than 75 percent of the customers who lost power now have it back.

“We set a goal of reaching that milestone by noon today, and we’ve already exceeded that goal by 10 hours,” he said.

ComEd said it hopes to have power restored to 99 percent of its customers midnight Friday night. But that would still leave some waiting until Saturday to get power back.

As CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman reports, with thousands of homeowners having gone more than 60 hours without power, many of them have turned to generators to power their refrigerators and other appliances, but some are sticking with simpler solutions until they get their power back.

An ice-filled cooler is Debbie Piskura’s refrigerator these days. The flashlight she keeps on the table is her only lamp. She is not hooking up to a neighbor’s generator.

“I don’t want to put anybody out,” she said.

That means her suburban camping continues in northwest suburban Des Plaines.

It all began with the storm-induced power outage – the second one in a few weeks. More than two days later, Piskura was still waiting to get her power back.

Asked what she would say to ComEd about the situation, Piskura said, “They should be ashamed of themselves because they’re not providing the customer service that they should be.”

Piskura might not want to buy a generator, but plenty of others in the ranks of the powerless do, leading to frustration.

Many stores are sold out, but Abt Electronics still had some on hand on Wednesday. The store’s been doing semi truck runs to keep them in stock.

“Some of them have sold even before they get to the store. Like, the whole semi would be sold before the truck hit the store,” said manager Randy Goldfein. “The phones have basically been ringing off the hook.

Goldfein said that after the last big outage in June, the store took dozens of orders for whole home generators that can run up to $8,000 dollars, but take time to install.

He’s been pointing customers looking for the quick fix to portables that start at about $600.

Tom Remec, who lost another whole fridge of food, bought one.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think anyone in the power company pays attention,” he said.

A total of 700 crews have been out in the field on Wednesday, working to repair power lines and restore service to affected areas. Neighboring utility companies from Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana are assisting ComEd, as well as crews from as far away as Alabama, Connecticut and Tennessee, WBBM Newsradio 780’s Bernie Tafoya reports.

In terms of restoring power, the first priority for ComEd is sensitive locations such as hospitals, police stations and fire stations. After that, crews go “first to those areas that have the potential for restoring the greatest number of customers at once,” and work their way down from there, Elsberg said.

Some customers have lost power in the days since the storm, and others may still lose power before the problem is completely fixed, Elsberg said.

“This was a very severe storm; it’s the worst on record, or at least in 13 years, to have struck the Chicago area,” he said. “There were high winds, there was a lot of lightning, and there was a considerable source of tree damage that brought down power lines.”

For that reason, some people who had power throughout the Monday storm ended up losing it later as unstable trees damaged power lines, Elsberg said.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bernie Tafoya reports

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, the frustration is mounting among residents of Northbrook. On Southgate Drive near Skokie Boulevard, residents have been without power since Monday morning and may not have it back until Friday, or even Saturday.

Elizabeth Becker’s refrigerator is chock full of food on every shelf, from a jar of grape jelly and a whole watermelon to a bakery-prepared cake.

“All that is going to be pitched,” Becker said. “Our garbage pickup is Friday. All that’ll be thrown out.”

Several butcher-counter meats were among the items in the freezer.

“We’re not even eating it,” she said. “We went to Barnaby’s last night, which is down the street. We went to another place up in Northbrook, Monday night, and all the food in the freezer – I’m sorry if it smells, but all this was just purchased Saturday.”

In all the Beckers have lost $150 worth of groceries.

The neighbors across the street have power, but Becker and her mother Mary are in the dark and the heat in their house. It is the second time in three weeks that storms have knocked their power out.

And unlike some of their neighbors who have generators, the Beckers can’t seem to find one. Thus, nothing works inside their house.

They have been using a battery-run lantern to get some light at night.

“We were going to go get a generator this morning, and he went home and he looked on all the Web sites – Home Depot, Lowe’s. Menards – and the only place that we can seem to get a 1,500-watt power generator is at Mount Prospect, and it’s $650,” Becker said. “Everybody’s out.”

Mary Becker tried to remain philosophical about the situation.

“I’m trying to be accepting about it, because there’s really nothing you can do,” she said. “There’s nothing you can do. It makes no sense to get angry. You just go out and get food as you need it.”

But others weren’t quite so able to suppress their frustration.

“Very frustrated,” said Stacy Cavaleri, who also lost power. “You can’t sleep, it’s so hot – I mean, besides last night, it cooled off, so that was a blessing – but food, everything – gone. It’s miserable.”

Last month, the power outage lasted about three days. This time, it could be five or six.

Park Ridge was also hit particularly hard. CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman reported on Tuesday, generators were humming all around the near northwest suburban town, because for those without power, they were the only way to keep food fresh and fans on.

“We still have five or six locations where trees are down on power lines, and actually live wires,” said Park Ridge city manager Jim Hock.

Steve Senf does not have a generator, but he was running extension cords to two neighbors’ generators. Meanwhile, he received a text message from a neighbor saying he shouldn’t expect to get power back until Friday.

“And today is what?” Senf said. “That’s unbelievable. Where are we living these days?”

But ComEd chairman and chief executive officer Frank Clark asks that customers maintain their patience.

“We know how difficult it is for our customers to go without electricity for any period of time,” he said.

But, he says, restoration of power takes time.

“When you have to come out, cut a tree apart, remove that tree, bring a crane out in some cases, and lift a pole out of the ground, and then put a new pole in the ground, and then bring the wires back,” Clark said.

Replicate that process hundreds of thousands of times, and it takes a while, Clark said.

As for ComEd’s infrastructure, Clark said it goes back 100 years, but is “continuously upgraded.” Officials with the electric company say the problem was not ComEd’s infrastructure, but wind and lightning.

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