For those yet to have power restored in the wake of Hurricane Irene, it's cold comfort to know that 550,000 customers served in New Jersey by JCP&L had their electricity back as of Wednesday morning.
But, at a hastily-organized press conference Wednesday afternoon at the electrical provider's North Jersey headquarters in Morris Township, JCP&L President Donald Lynch said that, and that they are working around the clock to get the remaining 120,000 still without power back online within the next several days.
Here, he said power could be back on by the end of the night, a statement that has been repeated several times over the last several days, . "We're hoping sometime today, most–if not all–[will have power]," Lynch said.
"If it doesn't, we have to go with 'Plan B,'" said Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, who said during the conference that local Office of Emergency Management crews would be canvassing the town to check on anyone that may need assistance, if the power does not come back on.
"The biggest challenge for us are the people who still don't have power," said Morris Township Mayor H. Scott Rosenbush. "They may not know the enormity just yet. The township is reaching out to residents as best we can."
Rosenbush said the township had just sent out mailings getting residents up to speed on the situation.
He emphasized, however, that once all customers has been rerouted from the substation, there is the ongoing cleanup efforts that he said, and Dougherty echoed, have been underway since the weekend.
"Crews are out, we saw them yesterday, last night and today," Rosenbush said. "If you see them, you should thank them–they're probably not getting a lot of 'thank you's' these days."
Rosenbush said anyone in the township with a non-emergency issue should call 973-326-7360.
Morristown residents with non-emergency issues should call 973-292-6625.
"This has been an ongoing fight to get power," Dougherty said. He said the town has been getting updates from JCP&L every two hours, and that their estimates for power restoration (citing the downtown business district) have been close to accurate.
"Though, that does not stop the frustration for those who don't have power," he said. "We're keeping our fingers crossed on the work they're doing tonight."
"This is the worst storm we have seen in recent memory," Lynch said, noting the company provides electricity to approximately 1.1 million customers in Northern and Central New Jersey, across 13 counties. "We understand the frustration. We are doing everything we possibly can."
Hurricane Irene, which hit the Morristown/Morris Township area Saturday night into Sunday, caused massive flooding here, causing the Whippany River to flood roads and residents, and, the JCP&L substation, on Ridgedale Avenue. With the substation now inoperable, the utility agency has been working since the weekend to reroute power from other sources, in order to get some 19,000 customers in this area back online.
However, as of Wednesday, many in Morristown and Morris Township continued to report power outages. Lynch said during the conference that a lot of customers were still facing power outages not because of the failed substation, but because of continued heavy flooding, fallen trees and downed wires in some areas. "We also want to make sure the safety of our employees and public is our number one priority," he said.
Lynch referred to the Ridgedale Avenue substation as one of JCP&L's largest. During his 35 years with the company, he said, "I have never seen flooding of this magnitude."
Despite the substation being located within proximity to the Whippany River, Lynch said "that is a great location where we are" and that the company would examine it to prevent future flooding.
Lynch said a lot of issues currently lie with the amount of rain that has fallen on the region this summer, causing the ground to become saturated, making tree uprootings much more possible. "There was just no place for the water to go," he said.
"I know this is tremendously difficult," he said. "We're going to be here. We're not going anywhere until every single customer is restored."