LIPA Fails Far Rockaway On Frigid Morn
Nearly 450 LIPA customers in Far Rockaway lost their electric and heat in a pre-dawn power outage last weekend – just as the area’s temperature reached its lowest low in years – a spokesman confirmed.
The outage, which lasted several hours, left many customers huddling beneath blankets or wearing their winter jackets in their living rooms.
Several fared even worse – their water pipes froze, and then broke. Later, the pipes thawed and water leaked out of large cracks causing extensive damage to the homes, several owners said. Those homeowners said they would submit damage claim forms to LIPA, and hope the company accepts responsibility, because they don’t know how they will pay for the repairs themselves. They also fear that this could happen again, they said.
A downed power line at Beach 75 Street and Amstel Boulevard caused power to go out, and radiators to go cold, at about 5:40 a.m. Saturday morning, according to LIPA spokesman Michael Lowdnes. The outage was the sixth power failure to affect the area in the last four months, Lowdnes said.
The outside temperatures were well below freezing; at 7 a.m. the temperature at J.F.K. Airport was just 2 degrees, and Saturday’s high temperature reached only the mid-teens, according to AccuWeather.
Golanda Govan, who lives at 570 Beach 68 Street, woke up at around 6 a.m. Saturday and quickly realized the power was out, she said. The clock on the cable box directly across from her bed was dark. "Not blinking, nothing," she said. Then, the bathroom light didn’t go on.
Govan grabbed her cell phone to check her America Online instant messenger where she gets breaking news updates. She thought there might be some large-scale blackout like the one that happened in August, she said. But there was no news to explain what was happening.
The mother of two started to gather flashlights and candles. Meanwhile, the house was getting colder.
"The heat was not on85 it was drafty," said Govan.
At around 8:30 a.m. she placed her first call to LIPA customer service and heard a recorded message that ack nowledged the outage and said the power should be restored soon, she said.
The power came back shortly after 9 a.m., for about 10-15 minutes, and then disappeared again, Govan recalled.
Then Govan realized her exterior walls were getting very cold, and, she thought, the hot water radiators might be in danger of freezing. Govan decided to wrap them with blankets in an attempt to shield them from the cold air.
Govan called LIPA again – the message said service could be back by about 1 p.m., she said.
According to Lowdnes, the power outage lasted less than four hours and service was restored by 9:30 a.m. Residents disagree.
Govan, and several of her Beach 68 Street neighbors said they were in the cold until almost 1 p.m. Afterward, they said, they started to see leaks. Their drywall ceilings started to drip, and looked wet in spots. Their kitchen floors were soaked. Water seeped out of strange places on the walls, and floor tiles started to peel up. In some spots the drywall caved, and mushy pink insulation fell out behind it.
They had to quickly relocate furniture and electronics – and replace them with garbage cans to catch drips originating from broken pipes.
In some spots the collapsed wall sections revealed that water pipes were run along thin exterior walls with one layer of insulation.
"This is when you find out that everything is not what it should be," Govan said.
Now Govan and her neighbors are trying to figure out what to do. Govan’s homeowners insurance doesn’t cover the broken pipes or subsequent damage, and that the repairs are sure to be more than she can afford. Vincent Davis and his wife Susan, of Beach 68 Street, are still without heat, and don’t know how they will afford to make the necessary repairs. Meanwhile, they had to send an infant relative, for whom they were caring, to another home in Brooklyn. They’re now using a space heater, some believe could be dangerous, for warmth.
Joseph Butler, of 559 Beach 68 Street, has seen damage throughout his home, but is thankful that all this happened after he returned from a recent vacation. If he were away last weekend the water damage could have been even worse, he said. Butler plans to pay for the repairs out-of-pocket, he said, which won’t be easy considering his recent holiday and vacation expenses.
All of the neighbors say they worry that they could pay for the repairs only to have all this happen again. Lowdnes said the recent wave of outages are a result of harsh winter weather, and that work is ongoing to improve service in Far Rockaway.
The warmer weather at the beginning of this week allowed many of those affected to mop up water and consider their options, but as The Wave went to press the local forecast showed temperatures would once again plunge below freezing and called for several inches of snow.