“Turn the power back on now.”
That was the simple, but direct message offered by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Thursday during a press conference at Babylon Town Hall.
Joined by supervisors from Babylon, Brookhaven and Islip towns as well as other elected officials, the county executive outlined a plan he said should expedite the restoration of power to homeowners living in flood zones but that have not sustained flood damage.
“We will be working with LIPA and embedding folks with their teams in a coordinated fashion to identify those homes that are safe to get these areas back on line,” he said. “We now have direct contact with the substations.”
This new coordinated effort driven by elected officials puts an end to LIPA’s requirement that homeowners in flood zones impacted by Hurricane Sandy need to have inspections complete before power is restored.
According to Bellone, there are thousands of homes throughout Babylon, Brookhaven and Islip within the Category 1 Flood Zone that did not sustain flood damage and are safe to be re-energized. Those homes that sustained flood damage cannot have power safely restored until a certified electrician makes repairs, he said.
For those still without power, officials ask that residents turn off their circuit breaker boxes until their neighborhood is re-energized. This will alleviate the danger of house fires. Fire department personnel, however, will be on the ready to tackle any fires that may occur, officials said.
While recognizing the potential safety risk involved as power returns, Bellone said the bigger concern is the cold temperatures now impacting Long Island. He noted that some residents without power are using barbecues, kerosene heaters or other unsafe methods to warm their homes, further increasing the danger of fires or carbon monoxide poisoning.
“We understand the safety risks, but I’m not going to have an elderly person die in their home (because of the cold) on my watch,” said Richard Schaffer, Babylon Town Supervisor.
Another area of frustration for officials has been communication within LIPA. Islip Supervisor Tom Croci said that following LIPA’s edict that homes in the Category 1 Flood Zone needed official clearance to be re-energized, Islip inspected 8,500 homes over a four-day period, with about 80 percent deemed safe for power restoration.
That information was provided to LIPA but those homes have yet to have their power restored, Croci said.