Life and LIPA After Sandy

One week ago, I tallied up my damage from Hurricane Sandy: some lost shingles, but no flooding, though the storm surge got to within a hundred feet of our house. We had hot water and a functioning gas stove, food supplies to last several days, and in general felt immense relief at our near miss.

Now, in Day #10 without power, there's a worse situation brewing. It's because of a man-made disaster, not a natural one. And I need your help.

LIPA is the Long Island Power Authority, an organization with a colorful history of mismanagement and outright corruption. In the aftermath of Sandy, over a million Long Islanders were left without power. Huge swaths came back on in the first few days, thousands of workers were imported from dozens of states. From our refuge in Pennsylvania, it looked like, for once, the situation would be under control. Their helpful map showed areas clearing and having power restored rapidly. We thought once we made it home again on Sunday that even if we didn't have power yet, at least the town my in-laws live in would be restored -- after all, there were no colored triangles showing outages there.

We came home to discover that neither town had power. The map was disgustingly inaccurate. It was replaced shortly by a less-helpful map with no streets and no estimated repair times whatsoever.

At that point I was still willing to give LIPA the benefit of the doubt. After all, they were saying 90% of service would be restored by the end of today. (Now LIPA is saying there are roughly 164,000 customers without power. Note that number is not including homes in Long Beach or the Rockaways, who they have removed from the rolls. A neat trick, that.) 

And, you know, sometimes these things are slow for logistical reasons... but then came the Inspection Fiasco. here are a few facts that I want to get a little more public attention:

* LIPA is requiring homeowners who flooded to get a certificate of inspection before power is restored, or they'll cut the power to your meter when your neighborhood is restored.

* They first started talking about this requirement on Thursday.

* It's unclear who needs these inspections; some sources say everyone south of Merrick Road and Montauk Highway; others say you only need such a certificate if you flooded. We live south of Merrick Road, but we didn't flood, so... do we need a certificate or don't we?

* LIPA has never before required such a certificate of inspection for a flooded home. 

* No concerted effort to inform homeowners of this new requirement has taken place. We found out through hearsay and our paper Newsday subscription.

* LIPA's CEO is on record saying that homeowners don't need to do anything to make sure this inspection occurs except "answer the door." 

* Our home in Oceanside is in the 40s right now. We're sleeping all together in a tent on the living room floor and escaping to Panera for a little heat and power in the mornings.

* LIPA has previously warned homeowners about fraud and burglaries -- you're not to open your doors to anyone who says they're from LIPA, as nobody from LIPA needs to go into your home to restore power.

* They have not given a timetable nor appointment times for these inspections.

* They say 40,000 homes will need this inspection.

* LIPA says they have 100 inspectors working on the job.

So the upshot is that LIPA wants homeowners to stick around unheated, unpowered homes in freezing weather on the off chance an inspector happens by, and given the resources they've allocated to the job, that could be weeks and weeks yet. Nevermind the people in shelters because they can't stay in their unheated homes. Nevermind the people still trying to make it to their jobs during this disaster.

Here's the kicker: The places affected by this ridiculous new rule don't have much phone or internet service... because there is no power. Cell phone towers aren't operating. VoIP phone lines and computers aren't working. Also: Gas shortages.  So many of the homeowners affected by this policy don't have a way to contact LIPA and get the straight truth, and not everyone is as fortunate as us to have the gas and financial resources to escape to another town for a few hours like we're going. And even so, we just might be shooting ourselves in the foot by seeking out warmth and missing the inspector.

We're still not starving. We're not going to freeze to death in the night. We haven't lost all our possessions. But we're cold, and tired, we're running low on clean laundry. The kids are at the end of their rope, especially my little one; there are only so many games of War and books a six-year-old can take in good stride.

There's no power in our school district, and school in Oceanside won't be back until Tuesday at the earliest. That'll make for a full two weeks without school. Even Long Beach -- Long Beach, the poster child for Sandy damage -- has resumed some limited school already. But not us.

We're being worn down.

We're in discomfort, not danger, but even so, I'm starting to feel a little desperate. How much more so those who don't have the same resources as we do? If this is what being lucky after Sandy feels like... I just don't even have words.

So look: I'm just one customer. It's easy for LIPA to ignore me. But maybe public attention and pressure from outside of Long Island can get LIPA to do something -- recruit more inspectors, announce a timetable, or even drop this inspection requirement entirely. So please, please, PLEASE share and Tweet and propagate this information so the public knows what's going on out here. It's the only thing I can think of that might actually help me and the other 100,000+ powerless LIPA customers out here to get back to something like normal.

And if any of you is a lawyer itching to start up a class-action lawsuit... I know a whole lot of people on the South Shore who want to see LIPA called to account.