Snow hit before aid could arrive to help

HARTFORD, Conn. —Utility crews have been slower to fix Northeast power outages caused by last weekend's record-setting snowstorm than they were after Hurricane Irene and its remnants because they had less time to prepare, a U.S. Department of Energy official said Tuesday.

Bill Bryan, a deputy assistant secretary for the agency, said during a stop in hard-hit Connecticut that he was monitoring the mutual aid response that has sent thousands of extra workers into the region.

The freak October snowstorm knocked out power to 3 million homes and businesses from Maryland to Maine. About 1.6 million customers remained without power Tuesday.

Bryan says utility companies didn't have time to get additional workers from other regions in place before the snowstorm like they were able to do before Irene in August. The companies had several days to prepare for Irene and only a few days to prepare for the snowstorm, which hit the region harder than was forecast. At midweek last week, some forecasters said the storm was going to miss New England.

Thousands of extra crews from across the country are now helping to restore power in the Northeast, where some utility customers aren't expected to get their electricity back until next week.

"When you know you've got a hurricane coming, part of the mutual assistance package is to pre-stage crews," Bryan said. "So after the hurricane has come and gone, you already have crews on the outskirts ready to come in and start working. ... This storm hit, and these crews were not mobilized."

Six thousand extra utility crews were either working in the Northeast on Tuesday or getting close to arriving, officials said.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who asked the Department of Energy for help in coordinating the cleanup and power restoration response, said Tuesday that he was disappointed that the number of out-of-state crews helping in the state was lower than expected. A spokeswoman for the governor said he wasn't criticizing the utilities' response, just trying to do everything he could to get the power on quicker.

About 700 extra workers on Tuesday were helping the 200 regular crews of Connecticut Light & Power Co., the state's largest utility, which had requested 1,000 additional crews. The weekend storm caused more than 830,000 outages in the state — a record — and about 650,000 customers remained in the dark Tuesday.

Bryan said it appeared there were problems in the way extra workers were being distributed in the region.

Authorities blamed the storm for at least 25 deaths, including one in Canada. Most were caused by falling trees, traffic accidents or electrocutions from downed wires.