As utilities rush to turn lights back on, powerless turn to generators
November 1, 2012By Scott Detrow for StateImpact-Pa.
The line for electric generators stretched across the front of Cabela's in Berks County Wednesday, and then doubled back.
Employees stationed at the front of the line repeated their sales pitch over and over, pointing to an image of the generator on a laminated placard. "The generator we have is this one right in the middle. ...You can run two, maybe three things at one time."
Not that the sales pitch was needed — many of the people in line had traveled from New Jersey to get their hands on the $415 generators. Tom Foley lives near Sandy Hook, and said he didn't expect to have power back for seven to ten days. Foley already owns a generator — he bought that one at Cabela's too — but said he was there to pick up more for family. "My mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my son," all needed power. "The ones we have are already dispersed to people who need them."
At the time StateImpact Pennsylvania visited, Cabela's only had about 100 generators left. The store started the day with 700. But people in line, like Clyde Odom of Northampton, weren't anxious. "Actually, the line's moving a lot quicker than I thought. For the length when I first walked up, it seemed pretty daunting."
Once customers purchased a generator, they drove to the back of the store, where the machines were loaded off palates and into cars. As Chistine Bauer of Bucks County waited for two to be placed in her trunk, she said he was only down to "gas and candles" at her home. When PPL told her it could be up to 14 days before power returns, she got in the car and headed west. "We actually raise geckos and breed them," she explained. "And they have to stay at a certain temperature. And we have eggs in the incubator, so we finally decided we have to do something to keep them alive."
One county over, more than a dozen PPL employees were camped out in a make-shift war room, working to get the lights back on for people like Bauer.
Outages are plotted on a map that's projected onto the wall, and everyone in the room was either manning a phone or typing data into a laptop.
PPL president Greg Dudkin told reporters this is the second-largest power outage the utility has ever dealt with. The goal, he said, is to get the lights back on for 85 percent of customers by the end of the weekend. "We expect that Lancaster and Harrisburg areas will be restored by the end of the day on Thursday," said Dudkin. "Our central region and Susquehanna regions will be restored by the end of the day on Friday. So it's really the eastern part that we'll be working through the weekend on."
Dudkin briefed Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley and U.S. Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey on PPL's efforts Wednesday. After the tour, Cawley issued a warning directed at the people in line at Cabela's and others using generators. "If you are using a generator, make sure that you don't fire up that generator indoors," he said, pointing out a man in Carbon County died this week from carbon monoxide poisoning, after running a generator in a garage attached to his home.
Getting the power back on is the state's main priority right now, but Cawley is quick to point out Sandy could still cause more damage – specifically, flooding. "As the storm progressed north, it kept raining. So that water is going to come down the rivers, the streams, etc," he said. "So we're keeping an eye on that. We're hopeful that we're not going to see anywhere near the type of flooding that we did in last year's event, but we are keeping an eye on it."
While Cawley and others noted Pennsylvania fared far better than some of its neighboring states, the commonwealth still has a ways to go before it's recovered from the Super Storm.