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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Energy firms along the Eastern Seaboard scrambled on Monday to resume operations after Hurricane Irene left millions of customers without power.
Refineries and other energy facilities escaped serious damage, while utilities, whose power lines were battered by the storm over the weekend, faced the most daunting workload, with over 5 million homes and businesses from North Carolina to Maine still cut off on Monday.
Restoring power could take days, and up to weeks in the hardest-hit zones, due to flooding and strewn debris.
"Irene was weaker than some expected, but it will probably take a week to restore power to some areas," said energy analyst Peter Beutel of Cameron Hanover in Connecticut.
"The storm shouldn't have a permanent impact on energy infrastructure."
One of the hardest hit refiner was Sunoco, which shut a crude unit at its Philadelphia refinery after a pump was flooded, sources said. The company was boosting output at another Pennsylvania plant, Marcus Hook.
ConocoPhillips' 238,000 barrel per day (bpd) Bayway oil refinery in Linden, New Jersey also shut down on Saturday but was due to restart on Monday, a source familiar with the plant said.
Other East Coast refineries that throttled back for Irene were resuming normal operations, and wholesale gasoline prices fell by 1 percent on Monday at the New York Harbor, after the oil hub reopened to vessel traffic following the storm.
One nuclear power reactor at Constellation Energy's Calvert Cliffs facility in Maryland remained shut after being struck by wind-blown debris on Sunday, but the company said the plant was safe. Other plants that reduced operations were preparing to restore normal rates, while Exelon Corp's Oyster Creek New Jersey plant, which supplies up to 600,000 homes, remained offline.
As of 3:00 p.m. Monday (1900 GMT), power was restored to one in every six households and business affected by outages from Irene, the Department of Energy said.
That left 5.1 million customers without power in 14 U.S. states, down from the 6.7 million affected in all by the storm, the department said in a report.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Virginia -- where the outages were greatest in number -- all had more than 600,000 customers without power on Monday afternoon.
In Rhode Island around two-thirds of all customers had no power, or more than 280,000, the DOE said.
In New York State, 889,000 customers were still without power late Monday.
Consolidated Edison, which powers New York City and nearby Westchester County, said around 70,000 remained affected in those areas. It expected to restore city customers by late Tuesday and others by Thursday.
Utilities warned that work could be slow-going.
"There are still areas we can't get to because of flooding and debris," said Jersey Central spokesman Ron Morano, who estimated that restoring service would take several days. Around a third of the firm's 1.1 million customers in central and northern New Jersey were affected on Monday.
Oil hubs at the New York Harbor and the Port of Philadelphia were both scheduled to resume normal activities on Monday, after Irene's approach forced them to restrict vessel traffic..
The 2.37 million bpd Colonial pipeline system, which ships refined oil products from the Gulf Coast to New York, said on Monday it was nearly ready to resume normal operations. The storm cut power to some oil terminals supplied by the pipeline.
Kinder Morgan's 600,000 bpd Plantation pipeline from North Carolina to Washington D.C. resumed operations after a brief shutdown during the storm.
Additional reporting by David Sheppard, Janet McGurty, Jeanine Prezioso, Eileen Moustakis, Joe Silha, Kristen Hays and Jeff Kerr; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer, Matthew Robinson and Marguerita Choy