South Jersey residents without power due to Hurricane Irene should plan for up to four more days without electricity, Atlantic City Electric officials said Monday.
"I think I'll start with the obvious," Joe Rigby, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Atlantic City Electric parent company Pepco Holdings, Inc., said during a conference Monday. "Hurricane Irene was a major event."
Rigby said Atlantic County was the hardest-hit region within the electric company's territory, with 19,708 customers without power as of 11:10 p.m.
Rigby said all of the utility's customers should have power restored by 11:59 p.m. Friday.
Additionally, 6,910 were without power in Cape May County and 1,680 were without power in Cumberland County. The company's outage map shows just 39 were without power in Long Beach Island, Stafford Township, Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor in southern Ocean County.
Company officials said they had a "very orderly process" for how they plan to restore electricity to those left in the dark at the beginning of the week.
Vincent Maione, Atlantic City Electric's regional president, said areas with the highest concentration of outages would be addressed first, followed by restoration efforts to the more rural and spread-out outages.
"Now it's going to get down to the folks that are smaller outages," Maione said. "It's hand-to-hand combat, as I like to say, to get those folks back in service."
To help the restoration process move faster, workers from electric companies from Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas have responded to the area as part of a Mutual Assistance program.
Those out-of-state crews are now part of the effort to repair downed wires and get the grid running again.
Widespread outages throughout the region are making it hard for residents to keep food and medicine cool, cell phones charged and information coming.
Food softened in freezers, milk went bad in refrigerators, TVs were dark and cell phone batteries were drained. But even those residents knew they weren't alone, they still wondered how long it would be before their electricity came back.
Joseph Herold lost power at his Estell Manor house about 7 p.m. Saturday. By Monday morning all his cell-phone and laptop batteries were dead. So Herold and his 14-year-old son Dillon drove to Herold's sister's house in Northfield to charge up and figure out where to purchase a generator or ice.
Herold's daughter has cerebral palsy and requires medication that has to be refrigerated, so finding something to keep the medicine cool was first on his priority list.
"We have never lost power for so long," he said.
Rigby and Maione encouraged residents to continue calling Atlantic City Electric officials to report outages. And, if there are special circumstances such as needing refrigeration for medication, that should be identified during the phone call.
They said unless people identify those issues, reported outages will just be added to the long que of locations needing restoration.
On Monday morning, residents in the Bungalow Park section of Atlantic City were growing impatient with the lack of information about when the power would return for about 325 residents.
Mike Vasquez, who lives in the 700 block of Wabash Avenue, said he stayed in his home during the storm to assist a neighbor who was unable to evacuate. He knew power would go out during the storm and prepared for a day or more in the dark, particularly because his neighborhood often loses power.
By 3:30 p.m. Monday, Vasquez - and his neighbors - were some of the lucky Atlantic County residents who had their power turned back on.
However, the delay in information-sharing by electric company officials left him concerned about Atlantic City Electric's reaction time to county-wide outages.
"We don't want any kind of special treatment," Vasquez said. "We know there was a hurricane. We know there are a lot of people without power. But we do want to know what's going on and when we can expect the power to be fixed."
The other problem, Vasquez said, was that those residents that did evacuate inland came home to find no electricity and did not have a chance to prepare their homes.
Monday afternoon, with a bright blue sky and plenty of sunlight filling the streets, the smell of a BBQ filtered through the air.
Frank Baker, who lives in the 600 block of Sewell Avenue, said he saw Comcast and Verizon trucks, but none from Atlantic City Electric.
"We just want to know what's going on," Baker said.
Brenda Guy, who lives across the street from Vasquez, said lack of power means her elderly and disabled mother cannot leave her home because she needs the electric lift for the second-floor apartment.
"We knew the power would go out," she said. "But don't tell people they can come home and they have no electricity."
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