Anger toward the state's major utility flowed from all angles Wednesday as union members railed against too little staffing, lawmakers pushed to fine poorly performing power companies and town officials fumed over the lack of CL&P crews and the glut of blocked roads.
The number of customers without power was expected to fall to about 430,000 Thursday morning. But even as the number of customers without power inched downward, frustration among state residents rose rapidly. Hotel guests sheltered from the cold took stands against efforts to move them out. Businesses struggled to stay open, and the frail and elderly either sought safety in congested emergency shelters or braved the cold discomfort of darkened homes.
Schools and day care centers stayed shuttered, forcing most parents to scramble for safe child care. The lucky ones had employers like Hartford Hospital, which opened its doors to workers' children.
The death toll related to the weekend's record-breaking snowstorm reached eight as a major public safety concern — the use of dangerous heating devices — spread quickly. Among the deaths, four were attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning, and as many as 187 residents were treated by midweek for symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Jeffrey Butler, the president and chief operating officer of Connecticut Light & Power, continued to be pummeled by local media impatient for answers, at one point reduced to apologizing to TV weather forecasters for his previous claims that the storm's severity came as a surprise. Butler pledged that 100 more crews would be in the state Thursday, adding to the 1,213 already on the ground.
In response to criticism about CL&P's failure to pay some contractors after Tropical Storm Irene, reported in The Courant Wednesday as a possible reason why fewer contractors were avaialble for this storm, Butler said the company's policy is to pay invoices promptly — but he said some bills are still coming in.
Butler and other CL&P officials said the company's staffing is appropriate, considering the potential cost of maintaining crews year-round in order to respond faster to emergencies. The key, he said, is finding ways to get outside help faster. He declined to comment on legislation proposed Wednesday that would levy fines against CL&P and other power companies if they didn't restore power fast enough, saying he was "100 percent" focused on this storm's recovery.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he favored "benchmarking" to set standards for storm recovery, repeating a word that's become common in his administration. The governor fired some shots — saying he was at one point unhappy with municipal leaders too slow to open shelters and with the performance of some state agencies.
And with the death toll rising, Malloy strongly reiterated safety warnings, especially that residents without electricity not try to use any equipment indoors to heat a house using fuel other than electricity, and that residents using generators make certain they are properly installed, outdoors.
CL&P's town-by-town list of predictions for when power would be restored offered little in the way of specifics. Most just said 11:59 p.m. Sunday was the time when 99 percent of customers would have electricity. Many municipal officials — facing re-election this Tuesday — were unhappy that CL&P couldn't tailor their local recovery forecasts more precisely.
Taking the power company's word, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, working with local election officials, declared that polls would be open as planned on Tuesday. Some towns with power restored offered help in preparation for neighboring communities in the dark, and some polling places might have to move, officials said.
The national guard geared up its recovery operations from their base at the abandoned runway at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.
Malloy promised not to forget Butler's self-imposed end-of-Sunday deadline for restoring power to 99 percent of customers systemwide. He said he was pushing CL&P to get power back "faster than that, certainly."
"I intend to hold the feet of the utility company to the fire," Malloy said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun