Saturday’s early morning storm forced Lou Cascione, like many South Jersey residents, to make some terrifying calculations.
His wife, Rita, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and relies on an oxygen machine to breathe. The generator at their Egg Harbor Township home runs eight hours on a tank of gas. Three times a day, Lou must find an open gas station to fill up his 5-gallon gas can — a dicey prospect given widespread power outages.
“God knows what’s happening eight hours from now because they have long lines now and the gas stations will close once they’re out,” Lou Cascione said Saturday, during one of his hourlong expeditions to find fuel. “She’ll have six hours (of backup) once that generator shuts down, and the only alternative is to rush her to a hospital.”
The Casciones’ drama could play out for days as Atlantic City Electric works to repair extensive damage caused by the storm, and officials say additional storms could further delay those efforts. Making matters worse, the widespread nature of the storm means the out-of-state crews most able to pitch in may be days away and across the country.
Vince Maione, Atlantic City Electric’s region president, said the majority of customers should have power restored by Wednesday evening, with some not expected to receive power until the end of next week. Maione said those estimates don’t take into account the potential damage from a forcasted storm last night.
“It’s going to take time, but we will not let up until all power is restored,” he said Saturday evening. Maione added that 200 Atlantic City Electric employees and contractors were at work Saturday, with another 300 joining the efforts today.
Meanwhile, authorities across the region were inundated with calls Saturday as they grappled with blocked roads and malfunctioning stop lights.
Matt Likovich, an Atlantic City Electric spokesman, said 163,000 South Jersey customers were without power as of Saturday afternoon, down from 206,000 at the height of the storm about 1 a.m. The worst-hit area was Atlantic County, with about 105,000 customers in the dark.
And storms forecast for overnight could hamper restoration efforts, he said.
“If winds get to be 40 miles per hour or higher, for safety we can’t put a worker in a bucket truck or do any aerial work,” he said.
All Atlantic City Electric employees are on duty to make repairs, and the utility is calling for crews from other companies to assist, Likovich said. But the wide swatch of the storm’s destruction across the Midwest and mid-Atlantic means the crews most able to help may have to travel days to get to South Jersey.
Likovich said the utility is focusing on restoring power to critical facilities such as firehouses, hospitals and water filtration plants, as well as power lines that serve the largest number of customers.
Atlantic City Electric is urging anyone relying on lifesaving equipment to seek shelter, as power may not be restored for some time. Likovich also advised customers to avoid any downed lines.
He said outages or downed wires can be reported by calling 800-833-7476.
Atlantic City casinos continued normal operations Saturday morning, despite tattered banners and wind-blown deck chairs. Spokesmen from various casinos reported a steady influx of weekend tourists despite the storm.
“It’s business as normal after some minimal cleanup,” said Diane Spiers, spokeswoman for Tropicana Casino and Resort. “The hotel is sold out, no staffing issues and full power.”
Most hardware stores, from big-box to small neighborhood locations, reported selling out of generators early in the day. Shore True Value Hardware in Somers Point was briskly pre-selling a shipment of 100 generators it had set to arrive about 4 p.m.
“We’ve sold 25 over the phone so far,” Shore True Value owner Alison Dannehower said about noon Saturday. “We’re letting people purchase them with credit cards, but it’s nonrefundable.”
Dannehower said she expected to sell most of the incoming shipment as word spread.
But a generator was no guarantee of power, as most gas stations didn’t have power to operate the pumps. Long lines of motorists queued up at the few operating stations, sparking concern of an impending gas shortage.
Mike Sullivan, a neighbor of the Casciones, said he had to drive across the county to find an open gas station for his generator. The utility lines looked like a tangled mess, he said, with trees a foot in diameter down in most of his neighbors’ yards.
“It’s pretty bad over here; it looks like a tornado must have gone through,” he said. “I’m looking at not getting power back for quite a while.”
Egg Harbor Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough said police officers were helping public works crews clear the roads and directing traffic at major intersections.
“I took a tour of the town, and I have never seen a town devastated like what I saw in EHT,” he said. “We had so many trees down with wires on the ground waiting for electric crews.”
McCullough said he’s also worried about the township’s large population of senior citizens who could go without air conditioning for days. Many of the county’s senior centers are closed on the weekends, and most of them were without power, regardless.
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