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Congressmen: Army Corps should help LI get power

Frank Eltman, Associated Press

In this aerial photograph, heavy equipment pushes sand to restore a barrier dune along the Atlantic Ocean on Long Beach Island, N.J., Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, after the region was pounded by Superstorm Sandy the previous week. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

BETHPAGE, N.Y. (AP) -- Two congressmen from Long Island are asking the White House to send federal employees to Long Island to take the lead role in restoring power to a region where tens of thousands of people remain in the dark 12 days after Superstorm Sandy.

U.S. Reps. Peter King and Steve Israel said they were sending a letter Friday requesting that personnel from the Army Corps of Engineers and Energy Department assume work of the Long Island Power Authority, whose work after the storm the congressmen called "abysmal." They echoed the criticism expressed earlier by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"When the lights went off in Baghdad and the lights went off in Kabul, it was the Army Corps of Engineers that went into Baghdad and Kabul to turn the lights back on," said Israel, a Democrat. "We don't need to turn the lights back on in Kabul and Baghdad. We need to turn the lights back on in Plainview and Great Neck and the south shore."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and some Army Corps personnel have been on Long Island for more than a week, but King, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he wants additional resources sent in.

As of Friday evening, 150,000 homes and businesses on Long Island were without power. LIPA has said as many as 60,000 of those customers were severely damaged by flooding and would require extensive repairs before workers can begin to restore power. Some who had electricity restored in the days following Sandy lost power again after a nor'easter struck Wednesday night.

Sandy knocked out 86 percent of LIPA's customer base, Cuomo said at a news conference Friday.

"I understand the frustration, and I understand the call for more federal help," Cuomo said.

On Friday evening, National Grid said about 95 percent of those affected by the storm would have power restored by the end of the day Tuesday. It said those 95 percent are in non-flood areas. LIPA owns the grid, and National Grid manages it on LIPA's behalf.

LIPA has declined to respond to the withering criticism, but National Grid officials faced angry local reporters at a press conference Friday evening where questions included, "Were you guys a failure?"

"Under the conditions, I think we performed extremely well," said Tom King, president of National Grid US, though he acknowledged that the outages are "unacceptable" to customers. King welcomed more help from the federal government.

The National Grid officials did not say when power would be restored to everyone, but when asked whether it would take as long as Thanksgiving, official John Bruckner called that "not acceptable."

When asked whether they had had enough work crews in place before the storm, the officials repeated that Sandy's force had been unprecedented. "We requested what we believed to be the right amount of crews to take on the event," Bruckner said. "We secured all the crews that we could. ... We wanted more."

They said more than 4,800 linemen were at work on Long Island, with another 1,600 committed to join them.

In Lindenhurst, Joseph O'Brien and his 24-year-old son, DJ, who is in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy, tried to cope with another day of no electricity.

"It's rough for him because his wheelchair went under water," said O'Brien, who has remained in the damaged home and keeps warm with a propane heater at night. "I will pay for a new chair. I just can't go online, can't shop, can't leave, no gas. Just everything combined makes it very difficult."