About 130,000 Still Without Power After Storms

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.

  • Bryan

    Wake up call to the antiquated utility systems… you’d think? Thank God it’s not raining or there would be flooded basements galore. Also, glad it’s not 20 below zero either. How we are so close to throwing rocks at each other again. Makes you realize how much we depend upon the power for practically everything! Sort of get a hint of what it was like back in the pioneer days.

  • rodger kibbe

    Com Ed costumers should not stand for this lack of due diligence on Com Ed’s part they have long neglected the power girds. they have failed to keep trees trimmed away from the power lines. they may say they are doing all they can, but in reality they are just lining there pockets with profit and continue to provide poor service.

  • Momboelitist

    The infrastructure is not the problem? I beg to differ!

    I went thru Hurricane Andrew in South Florida. My power was off for 4 hours! Only areas that took direct hits from the most powerful part of the storm lost power for long periods of time, then again, there were no structures to go back to anyway.

    I am very happy to have my power back and I know how hard the crews are working but ComEd needs to stop trying to blame the storm and do something to update the grids. A guy that works for me has had power outages 3 times on the past 45 days, all were multiple day outages. Come on, something is wrong.

    Finally, trimming back trees would have probably reduced the number of outages. I’m no expert and I’m sure it’s much more complicated than some guy like me spouting off but I’m sure something can be improved somewhere.

    By the way, thank you again to the crews that are out there working hard for us.

  • Jo Anne Kaehler

    If Com Ed had spent money over these past 100 years upgrading the infrastructure to bury the lines in the ground instead of being the greedy SOBs they are and pocketing everything that came in the door, they wouldn’t have to be dealing with all of these aggravated customers because the power wouldn’t be going out. Think about it. All the places that lose power are the ones where the lines are still overhead. We are one of the most advanced countries in the world, and yet our infrastructure is hard-pressed to compete with third-world countries because these companies just want to keep making money instead of improving the product. THAT’s where the problem lies.
    Don’t blame it on an act of God, Com Ed. It’s your fault. Three MAJOR power disruptions in 12 months – 2 of them within the past month! – is absolutely unacceptable. The FTC should be looking into whether Com Ed should be fined for this. And they want to raise our rates AGAIN ?!?!?!?!?!
    Write your state legislator and the FTC and demand an investigation. Demand that Com Ed be held accountable for thier greedy action – or inaction. Demand that they start investing in upgrading their infrastructure WITHOUT raising the rates of their customers. Utilities are commodities; they shouldn’t be on the NYSE in the first place. Stop allowing these companies to get away with their poor service in the interest of keeping their shareholders happy because of ‘free enterprise.’ THAT’S what’s wrong with this country and why we’re not recovering. But I digress.
    Bottom line, Com Ed needs to be held accountable.

    • Kris

      Amen Sister!

    • Kathleen Downey

      I am with you on this one. My power went out for 20 Hours on June 21st, 2-3 Hours once before the power went out again on July 3 for 22 Hours, and since 8:20 a.m. on July 11th, AND STILL NO POWER! When we ask Com Ed to cut trees in Beverly, we are still waiting for the tree trimmers to show up – four years now. Com on Com ED, accept responsibilty and pay uis for lost food, dead fish, etc.

  • Erik H

    I love power lines and poles. They are so pretty. We need more of them

  • CJ

    What excuses. ComEd is responsible for trimming trees and they do not. The reason why we have had 20 outages over the past 7 years in our neighborhood is because they do not want to spend the money to trim trees.

    They also do not want to bury lines.

    ComEd, if you would have buried them, we wouldn’t have these problems every year.

    Go to major cities in Europe. You do not see cables hanging from old tree trunks throughout their cities.

    Bottom line, ComEd needs to pay for losses. Politicians need to make sure they pay.

  • tc

    We have been affected by both storms and each time have been without power for more than 2-3 days. This is absured! They couldn’t even give us an estimated time to restore our power. In fact, we had power on Monday until 3pm and then we were cut out.

    Our food is spoiled and our refigerator has officially seen it’s last power outage since we have been through this scenerio a ridiculous amount of times this year already. Thanks ComED, fantasic no good job you are doing. Your mission statement probably reads along the lines of “control the chaos as much as possible and still take lunch breaks”….

  • dschneidwright

    We ( Park Ridge) have lost power 3 times since the first bad storm in June. Com ed is band aiding the problem not correcting it. We are lucky to have such great neighbors who have helped make the days of power loss bearable. Com ed stop charging consumers for the “donations ” you make to the museums and for your attorneys and such use the money to upgrade the system. Folks are getting tired of all of the abuses against them.

  • Marcus

    I am thankful we didn’t get hit like Joplin Missori did. I can’t complain and take everything with a grain of salt. Besides, it’s nice being outside with the neighbors these past few nights. We are all in the same boat and are helping each other.

    I’m not worried about throwing out the food. The ONLY thing I worry about is if it should rain and the sub pump isn’t working because of the outage.

  • comedblows

    It’s complete BS. No power for 6 days? There’s only 5 houses in our area without power, so we will certainly be the last to get help. If ComEd would actually do their jobs and upgrade this 100 year old mess, we wouldn’t have as many problems. And they want more money?

  • Barb

    The wealthier suburbs seem to be getting the resolutions first. Park Ridge, Northbrook, Palatine. Almost the entire city of Waukegan and parts of Gurnee have been without power for all three days. The media and Com Ed have no mention of those. They encompass most of the remaining numbers. Money talks.

  • Barb

    Waukegan has 100,000 population.

  • Barb

    Waukegan, Beach Park, North Chicago, and parts of Gurnee are almost totally without power through Wed.evening No mention is made of any sections of those cities/towns as having received any significant reinstatement of power, because they have not.. Waukegan is 100,000. The other towns listed above total over 70,000. This makes up more than 20 per cent of the original populations with out power, and the total of those remaining to receive power. Most of those are without power, with Gurnee having sections without power. Why did Com Ed leave these until last? There are no crews here from Wisconsin.

    My take on their claim that crews from all these other states are here, is that it is propaganda. At best the crew sizes are very small. Why aren’t our local leaders speaking up? Com Ed is helping the suburbs with the most money first. Thanks for clarifying, Com Ed and the media! We know where the Waukegan area stands in your priorities. Huge residential and business populations here are still without power! We will definitely be the ones who will be without power until at least Thur.

  • http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/07/14/power-crisis-wearing-thin-for-chicago-area-residents/ Power Crisis Wearing Thin For Chicago Area Residents « CBS Chicago

    […] On Wednesday, Elizabeth Becker’s refrigerator was chock full of food on every shelf, from a jar of… […]

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