New York's governor urged to declare power failure a disaster

Monday, July 24, 2006

Several thousand still without power in borough of Queens.

NEW YORK -- A group of political leaders urged Gov. George Pataki on Sunday to designate a section of the city suffering from a prolonged power failure a disaster area, making it eligible for federal aid.

"Anywhere else it would be," Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., said at a news conference in the borough of Queens, which officials often complain is overlooked. "If this were an area of 100,000 people in upstate New York, the governor would have declared it a disaster area."

A spokeswoman for Pataki, Joanna Rose, said the governor has spoken with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and offered any assistance necessary. The utility whose damaged lines are causing the trouble, Consolidated Edison, also bears a burden, she said.

"We believe that it is Con Ed that should make restitution to those who have suffered," she said.

By Sunday evening, electricity had been restored to 19,000 of an estimated 25,000 Consolidated Edison customers who lost power during last week's heat wave, a company spokesman said.

Boomberg had estimated about 100,000 people were affected at the peak of the blackouts. Each "customer" could be more than one household in an area where homes are often sectioned into multiple units, and could even be an entire apartment building.

Con Ed's CEO, Kevin Burke, said there was no way to estimate how long those still affected would be without power.

Speaking at a news conference, Bloomberg urged residents to put aside their frustrations over the power failure and thank the workers trying to correct it.

"The Con Ed workers are working an enormous number of hours. I don't think anyone should be satisfied, but the city's response has been as good as it could be," he said.

City Councilman Eric Gioia said Burke should resign.

"When the lights went out, that was just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "Since then, Con Ed has misled the public about the severity of the situation, failed to grasp that we are in a crisis and shown no plan to put the power back on and ensure the health and safety of people in Queens."

Asked to respond, Burke said, "I am now focused exclusively on restoration."

There was still no indication why Queens suffered while the rest of the city did not, Bloomberg said. Con Ed promised a report within two weeks.

Other officials said the city planned to reimburse small businesses up to $7,000 in spoiled perishables and that an emergency loan fund would be announced within a few days. Nine senior citizen centers, normally closed on weekends, were open Sunday with air conditioning and meals.

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