UPDATE: Booker: 'Large Swaths' of Newark Still Without Electricity
Mayor Cory Booker challenges PSEG's estimate that power has been restored to about 65 percent of customers in Newark
UPDATE, 7 pm Wednesday, Oct. 31
Parts of Newark are still without power Wednesday, including large parts of the North Ward, despite PSEG estimates that 65 percent of the city is back up.
PSEG officials later clarified those comments, saying its original percentage estimates referred to meters and not actual customers. City officials now believe about 60 percent of the city was without power as of 2:30 pm Wednesday, and that it may take up to two or three days to restore.
During a conference call with reporters around 5 pm Wednesday, PSEG president Ralph Larossa said the company is working on the Essex switching station, infrastructure wiped out by a tidal surge during the hurricane. That station alone serves tens of thousands of customers in Newark, Larossa said.
Earlier Wednesday, PSEG officials said about 35 percent of customers in Newark are without electricity, a number Mayor Cory Booker said he challenges. Booker said officials had given him a more "conservative" number regarding power restoration in the city.
"I don't think 70 percent of our city is with power right now. I challenge that," Booker said, noting power outages in parts of the North and South wards, Ironbound and the West Ward's Vailsburg section.
The estimated number of power restoration in Newark also doesn't sit well with Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr., whose North Ward was arguably hit the hardest by power outages. He estimated Wednesday afternoon about 60 percent of the ward is still without electricity.
"I haven't been around the whole city, but they've (PSEG) been throwing down some pretty optimistic numbers," said Ramos.
Several traffic lights along Bloomfield Avenue, one of Newark's major arteries, in the North Ward are out, with police directing traffic in all directions. Traffic lights are also out at Springfield Avenue and Bergen Street and a stretch of Clifton Avenue, from 8th Avenue to Bloomfield Avenue.
"As best as they (drivers) can, use precaution but if they don't need to be out there on the road, they should really stay home," the councilman said.
Beset by his own power outage, Ramos spent Tuesday delivering pizzas to seven senior citizen complexes in his ward without power. He said seniors have been complaining of the cold and urged residents to stay with other friends or family members or go to the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center shelter.
About 95 percent of Newark was in the dark Tuesday, after major substations were flooded as Hurricane Sandy ripped through the region.
Newark Public Schools will be closed Thursday.
"There's a lot of impatience, I'm not going to underplay that," Booker said of residents without power.
PSE&G officials said Wednesday morning the Newark switching station had been restored, bringing power back to Newark Liberty International Airport and much of the city. Crews are now in the process of assessing substations to restore power to areas that are still out, which will be a "painstaking process," officials said.
City streets are littered with broken branches, uprooted trees and debris. In the North Ward, PSE&G trucks were seen working on a cracked telephone pole that had crashed onto the Zap Lube store.
The Ironbound received the brunt of flooding from Hurricane Sandy, with flood waters at one point at least five feet high. Booker said basement-floor residents have had to be evacuated from their homes and that water is still present on streets like Van Buren and Ferry Street.
"The flooding damage was significant," said Booker.
With seasonal temperatures forecasted for the next several days, keeping warm may be an issue for some residents without power.
"People often use makeshift ways to keep their homes (warm)," he said. "That is a massive fire hazard."
He said three people suffered carbon-monoxide poisoning after trying to heat their home on Meeker Avenue. One of those people is still in critical condition, the mayor said.
Booker advised residents to seek refuge at the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center, the city's main shelter that's not yet at capacity. Food and water, as well as a place to sleep, are provided at the West Kinney Street rec center.
Halloween in the city has been canceled for Wednesday and there is no plan yet to reschedule activities, said Booker.
"There's a lot of debris and we'll be cleaning up for days. We just don't want kids out there trick-or-treating. It's an invitation for injury," he said.