White House working to eliminate "bureaucratic roadblocks" companies and crew are encountering to delay effort
An army of more than 53,000 utility workers from around the country, and as far away as Canada, California and Washington state, is joining forces to begin the arduous task of restoring electricity to millions of Americans whose power was interrupted by Hurricane Sandy's massive wake.
"Despite the challenges, we are seeing a truly American story unfold in front of our eyes," said Tom Kuhn, president of Edison Electric Institute. "President Obama is helping millions of Americans and our industry tremendously by lending a hand from the government to speed this critical response. This storm is the biggest single task our industry has ever undertaken, and thousands of utility workers are risking their lives to complete the restoration process, which is extremely technical, time-consuming and dangerous."
Obama spoke to Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Kuhn and representatives from utilities and regional assistance groups from the White House situation room. The intent was to eliminate any "bureaucratic roadblocks" that utility companies' and their crews are encountering to delay the power-restoration effort, and identify steps that will expedite it.
Underground wires and power equipment in New York City and Newark, N.J., were especially hard hit by Sandy, as seawater penetrated equipment and substations. This has created an unusually daunting challenge for repair and power restoration because all of the components must be cleaned, dried and tested before the equipment can be re-energized. Flooding destroyed utility distribution network equipment throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, including substations, transformers, control panels, poles and wires, and must be fully replaced or repaired before electricity is restored. Sandy's record-breaking storm surge - an excess of 14 feet - broke records set in 1821. An estimated 6 million customers are still without power.
The challenges that remain for utility workers are enormous. Responders on the ground have been working tirelessly from the time before Hurricane Sandy made landfall, and now must clear fallen trees, sand, debris and water before they install and replace equipment.
"There's nothing more American than when we come together as a country to help out one another," said Brian Wolff, EEI senior vice president. "When I look at the storm response I'm overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for our linemen and utility workers to effectively do their jobs, and how those without power are sharing their resources. This is a crisis that we are addressing together as a nation."