More than 1m households and businesses — many operating remotely because of the pandemic — remained without power along the US eastern seaboard on Friday, three days after the passage of a tropical storm that could herald the most active hurricane season in years.
Hurricane Isaias raced north up the Atlantic coast on Tuesday after sweeping through the Caribbean, cracking trees and knocking down power lines from the Carolinas to Massachusetts.
People working from home suffered disruptions as WiFi networks failed and mobile phone batteries ran out. In New Canaan, Connecticut, hundreds of people camped out on portable chairs or in cars to connect to WiFi outside the public library, the town hall and the high school, said Michael Reeves, a local resident who runs QuiVive Global Advisory, a firm that raises capital for sustainability investments.
“The leafy suburbs are really nice until the wind catches the trees and they fall on the power lines,” said Mr Reeves.
Eversource Energy, an electric utility serving Connecticut, reported more than 400,000 lingering outages on Friday after it had restored service to 500,000 customers. More than 1,000 crews drawn from as far as Missouri were working to repair the distribution grid, but the company warned some customers could still be without power as late as next Tuesday.
In New York City and its northern suburbs, the utility Con Edison said that 100,000 customers were without service on Friday. Public Service Enterprise Group’s Long Island utility reported 215,000 customers affected by power outages, while its utility in New Jersey had almost 70,000. FirstEnergy’s Jersey Central Power & Light said 166,000 customers were offline.
The damage drew comparisons to prolonged outages that followed hurricane Irene in 2011 and superstorm Sandy in 2012, which prompted investment in grid protection.
Coping with the outages was complicated by the need to practise social distancing in the face of coronavirus, preventing households without power from taking refuge in homes that did. Utility crews were also following extra safety protocols that may slow the process of restoring power, said the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for investor-owned utilities.
East coast governors ordered utility regulators to investigate the service failures.
“Several years ago, Connecticut experienced large-scale outages that took days to recover from, and we were told that the utilities were improving their resources so that they can be prepared for the next time Mother Nature inevitably hits again,” said Ned Lamont, Connecticut’s governor. “And now here we are, with a wholly inadequate response to another storm.”
This year’s hurricane season is shaping up to be “one of the busiest on record,” the National Weather Service said this week. Isaias is already the ninth named storm of the season, when ordinarily only two would have formed by early August.
Widespread outages in the tree-lined suburbs also darkened homes rented by New Yorkers who fled cramped quarters in the city as the coronavirus crisis deepened. In Connecticut, some houses lacked running water because there was no power to pump it from underground wells, Mr Reeves said.
He tried to put it in perspective. “At the end of the day we feel blessed — we’re not Beirut.”