Frustrations continued to mount Thursday for thousands across the region who became increasingly dissatisfied with Connecticut Light & Power's response to Hurricane Sandy.
"We are going on day four without power," said state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, whose town was still 55 percent in the dark late Thursday. "What is taking so long, if we have the necessary resources in place? We are just trying to get straight answers."
CL&P is reporting this morning that 165,550 customers still have no power. Outages statewide peaked at more than 500,000 earlier in the week.
Hurricane Sandy brought strong wind gusts that knocked down trees and power lines. Some of the hardest hit towns were in our region, but there are signs of improvement.
CL&P is reporting that 50 percent of its customers in East Lyme are in the dark — two days earlier the entire town had no power.
North Stonington now leads area towns with 72 percent of CL&P's customers without electricity.
Outages in Ledyard, Lyme, Old Lyme, Preston, Salem and Stonington all ranged between 48 percent and 67 percent. In Waterford, New London and Groton outages hovered between 11 to 30 percent.
Mitch Gross, a CL&P spokesman, said the utility company expects a "substantial" restoration across the state by Monday or Tuesday. Frank Poirot, another spokesman for the utility, said he understands the frustration.
In the case of Stonington, Poirot said, there isn't one isolated power grid that serves the town. He said line crews often have to go to other towns to make Stonington fixes, explaining why people may not see crews.
At a news briefing Thursday, Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek said he was dissatisfied with CL&P and questioned why the five crews in town Wednesday dwindled to just one Thursday.
"The extent of damage in your area is not just fixing a pole," Poirot said. "In many cases, we are starting from scratch. We have to build an entire street distribution system. It's a time-consuming fix."
In East Lyme, power restoration may have sparked two small fires. First Selectman Paul Formica said all roads would be cleared by the end of Thursday.
East Lyme Emergency Management Director Richard Morris said the town has received an unprecedented number of phone calls from residents concerned with continued power outages. As of 9:30 p.m., 60 percent of the town remained in the dark.
Morris said the town is disappointed with CL&P's progress.
Outages in New London were down to 14 percent late Thursday, according to CL&P. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio voiced concerns earlier in the day that people without power in the city's housing projects were at risk. The city arranged for 200 blankets to be sent to the Thames River apartments on Crystal Avenue.
The Salvation Army also brought its canteen truck with hot coffee and other beverages and food to the apartments, where 124 families had been without power since Monday.
The area around the apartments and Winthrop Elementary School is a high priority, according to Reid Burdick, the city's director of emergency management. City and local officials are concerned by weekend forecasts that call for temperatures to dip below 40 degrees.
"So far, we have been worried about public safety. But with temperatures dropping, we may soon begin to talk about public health," said state Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford. "The weather is changing. It's going to feel like winter."
Mark Bancroft, the mayoral assistant in Ledyard, said CL&P brought in 15 crews on Thursday to work on power outages. The number of CL&P customers in the town who were without power had dropped to 65 percent as of 9:30 p.m., down from a peak of 90 percent.
Mayor John Rodolico, who left Oct. 21 for a vacation in China, returned to town Thursday and met emergency management personnel. Several of his return flights had been canceled because of the hurricane, delaying his return by five days.
Montville Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel Jr. said Thursday there were six CL&P crews in town. Five were dedicated to restoring power to two circuits that feed electricity to the east and west of Old Colchester Road. The other crew was there for critical emergencies.
Outages in town were still at 46 percent as of 9:30 p.m., but the Route 32 corridor and the town's wastewater treatment plant had regained electricity, according to Raymond Occhialini, the town's fire marshal and emergency management director.
North Stonington First Selectman Nick Mullane said Thursday five CL&P crews were in town, where outages were at 72 percent. The Mobile Home Garden Park on Providence-New London Turnpike is the first priority for getting electricity back, Mullane said.
In Preston, Selectman Timothy Bowles recommended at a Board of Selectmen meeting that the town start negotiations with Norwich Public Utilities to have the local utility expand its franchise into Preston. First Selectman Robert Congdon had called NPU earlier in the week to see whether extra crews were available but was told they must be routed through CL&P.
Congdon said the town is concerned with the Lincoln Park senior housing complex. He said CL&P has agreed to bring generators to the facility for residents there.
Quaker Hill School in Waterford had power restored Thursday afternoon, but as of 5 p.m., power had yet to be restored to Great Neck School and the area surrounding the school.
Nine crew members and three bucket trucks from NPU were set to be sent to the town. They were scheduled to be dispatched to parts of Waterford after visiting the staging area at the Waterford Speedbowl.
Thursday morning, the Speedbowl staging area buzzed with activity as CL&P workers fueled up on a catered breakfast of scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, oatmeal, bacon and hot coffee.
The staging area was set up almost overnight, when the number of crews outgrew the Myrock Avenue staging area. Local hotels and motels are filled with line and tree crews who came to the storm-ravaged area from as far away as British Columbia and Washington state.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Thursday the U.S. Department of Transportation has authorized $2 million in emergency funding for infrastructure repairs.
Staff writers Claire Bessette, Kimberly Drelich, Kathleen Edgecomb, Julianne Hanckel, Lee Howard, Anna Isaacs and Izaskun E. Larrañeta contributed to this report.