By Beth Pinsker Gladstone and Chris Francescani
NEW YORK Nov 14 It has become one of the
biggest sources of tension between residents and the authorities
in the worst-hit areas of New York City after Superstorm Sandy:
damaged electrical systems in homes and - making matters worse -
not enough electricians to fix them.
For while the utilities may have now reconnected power to
almost all streets in New York City they have been unable to
turn on the electricity to 30,000 to 40,000 homes because of
fears that bad electrical wiring could cause fires. And many
residents fear they could be in the cold and dark for weeks or
even months because they can't find or afford an electrician.
Recognizing these fears, New York City Mayor Michael
Bloomberg last Friday announced a "Rapid Repairs" program set up
jointly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide
electricians and other contractors free of charge to those who
have been hit badly, with repairs paid for by FEMA grants. He
said that would be faster than getting individual home owners to
all scout around for their own electricians.
The only problem is the program looks likely to take some
time to get underway - and city regulations governing who can do
electrical work in the city seem to be part of the problem. On
Monday, Bloomberg said that "it's too early to estimate how long
this will take," adding: "We'll see as we get going. If everyone
depends on their own electrician, it would take a very long
And a spokeswoman for Bloomberg on Tuesday said sign up for
the program had only just begun and the city did not yet have
firm numbers on how many homeowners had applied.
Tishman Construction, which is running the program for the
city, said it would begin assembling at least 100 teams of
contractors on Thursday.
A labor union official who is working with city officials on
the Rapid Repairs program said there are not enough electricians
in New York City available to efficiently handle all the
inspections and repairs required to get power back on for tens
of thousands of city residents.
The official, who requested anonymity, said New York State
Governor Andrew Cuomo is considering a plan to expand the
program to allow any New York State-licensed electricians to
participate, rather than just city-licensed contractors.
State Senator Martin Golden said he is very concerned about
the short supply of both licensed electricians and equipment. He
said he had circuit breakers flown in overnight from California
for the Gerritsen Beach community in Brooklyn, which has about
1,400 badly damaged homes. He said the area needed at least 50
teams of contractors to make an impact on the electrical
problems given one team could probably only work through four
homes in a day.
CORRODED BY SALT WATER
The main power company in the city, Consolidated Edison
, requires that houses that currently aren't getting
electricity because of storm damage be visited by an electrician
licensed to do work in New York City, who will sign a form
saying whether it is ready to receive power. This is not a job
that out-of-state volunteers, or even electricians from other
parts of the state, are allowed to do without permission from
While the utility companies supply power, the homeowner is
responsible for wiring and outlet boxes inside their own homes
that may have been damaged by salt water flooding. "We apologize
for any delay getting power back, but the customer has to get
their equipment repaired," said Con Edison spokesman Chris Olert
The concern is about fire, said licensed electrician Alan
Riback, owner of Electrical Security Corp, who joined ConEd's
efforts on Sunday as a paid consultant. "It's a bomb waiting to
go off," he said, if you run power through equipment corroded by
Homeowners in New York City can sign up for the Bloomberg
program by calling 311 and providing the identification numbers
many of them would already have received from FEMA.
Residents have been confused, and some angry, about what
needed to be done to get the power turned back on.
Homeowners in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, which still has
thousands of homes without power, have been paying a large range
of prices for electrical work in recent days.
Home improvement expert Tom Kraeutler, host of the
syndicated radio program The Money Pit, said $150 was a good
ballpark estimate of a sign-off visit. A licensed electrician
then could just de-energize any lines to basements or garages
that got flooded, and leave restoration work for later, "when
cooler heads prevail," Kraeutler said. Then the rest of the
house could receive power.
But many residents desperate to get their power back after
two weeks are paying much more than that - possibly getting
repairs they don't need right now - and the power was still not
back on yet.
David McDowell, 52, said he spent $3,000 to get a licensed
electrician to install new outlets in his basement and sign off
on his house, which had 71 inches (180 cm) of floodwater in it
after the storm.