storm response

Atlantic City Electric Linemen Bill Nesbitt of EHT (left) and Mike Musarra of Lower Absecon (right) work on lateral power line Tuesday on Shepard Drive in Northfield. 

Ben Fogletto

Atlantic City Electric expects to restore power to nearly all of its customers by Friday night, but some may have to wait until the weekend to regain electricity, the utility said.

“Although Atlantic City Electric initially expected to restore service to all customers by 11:59 p.m. Friday, July 6, restoration to some areas that received the most extensive damage is expected to extend into the weekend,” the utility said in a statement issued Thursday.

More than 12,000 homes and businesses remained without power Thursday, six days after the destructive storm roared across the region. The damage and work needed was more extensive than when officials first made their estimates, utility spokesman Matt Likovich said.

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More than 1,000 workers continue restoring power and clearing trees.

“They’re hustling to get this done,” he said of workers.

Many areas served by Atlantic City Electric remained without power Thursday, including Belcoville near Mays Landing, Dorothy in Weymouth Township, and Deerfield and Upper Deerfield townships.

With restoration continuing, state officials said they are starting to formally assess the storm damage in the region to see if the cost of destruction qualifies for federal aid. Consumer advocates also are warning residents of scams and investigating reports of price gouging.

Meanwhile, residents have been trying to cope with the situation in different ways.

Without electricity, one couple has slept in their Toyota RAV4 practically every night since losing power, another family flushes their toilets using drinking water that gets delivered to their home in jugs, while still a third resident refuses to leave her near-100-degree home for fear looters may break in.

“I have never in my life experienced anything like this,” said Sylvia Del Valle, 48, of Northfield.

While she has endured staying in her home despite the high temperature, she sent her 21-year-old son, who sleeps with a breathing machine, to stay with friends. Del Valle said she didn’t want to leave her house unattended due to its history of being burglarized.

“They’ve taken everything from me two times,” she said of burglars.

Cassandra Bunje, 41, of Mays Landing, also has been without electricity in her home since the storm. But with five rescue dogs, including a pit bull and German shepherd, she has had difficulty finding a temporary home for her, her fiance and dogs. So every night, the seven of them have hopped inside her sport utility vehicle, covered the windows and turned on the air conditioning in order to sleep.

“I try to make them as comfortable as I can,” Bunje said.

The couple has gone through two tanks of gasoline this week.

“I’ll never speak badly about this truck again,” she said. “This is our only option.”

Others, such as Dorothy Shepperson, 66, of Egg Harbor Township, are not only enduring no power but also no water.

“I’m a diabetic and this heat is killing me,” she said.

Shepperson and her 26-year-old grandson have been trying to make do, particularly because they have wells that require electricity to pump. They have been using drinking water that is delivered to her house to flush the toilets.

“We put bleach in the toilet so that it doesn’t smell,” she said. “We’re coping.”

One neighbor who has electricity has allowed her to stick an extension cord through a window so that she can power her refrigerator.

Atlantic County spokeswoman Linda Gilmore said the region is starting to recover and that officials discontinued water and ice distribution at the Hamilton Mall on Thursday after seeing fewer vehicles in line.

All 10 county library branches and nine senior centers will be open Friday. Call 888-426-9243 for locations and hours of of operation. The county also is working on a plan for waste disposal, although municipalities should be continuing regular trash pickups.

In Cumberland County, the South Jersey chapter of the American Red Cross has set up a mobile feeding site at the Vineland Hills Manufactured Home Community. One shelter remains open in Cumberland at the Thomas Wallace Jr. Middle School, 699 N. Mill Road in Vineland.

On Thursday, representatives of the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency said they began assessing damage in Atlantic and Cumberland counties — two of the hardest-hit areas in the state. That assessment is one of the first crucial steps toward determining whether the storm damage qualifies for federal disaster relief.

The state Division of Consumer Affairs also announced it has begun investigating reports of price gouging at hotels, gas stations and other businesses.

“If complaints are found to be substantiated, the division will hold the business accountable and seek all recourse permissible under the law, including restitution for affected consumers, and civil penalties,” state Division of Consumer Affairs acting Director Eric Kanefsky said in an emailed statement. “Since the beginning of this week, we have been reaching out to retailers, industry groups and others, and reminding them that we will hold them accountable to New Jersey’s consumer-protection laws.”

Consumers who suspect price gouging or scams, including for home repair and charity, are asked to call the division at 800-242-5846 or 973-504-6200. As of Thursday, the division said it had not received any formal complaints, although officials said they were investigating some reports.

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