Millions Across Northeast Adjusting to Lack of Power

NEW YORK – Millions of families tried to adjust to life without modern conveniences Wednesday, two full days after Superstorm Sandy ripped through the Northeast and blacked out some of the nation’s most densely populated cities and suburbs.

Homes grew chilly without heat. Food spoiled in refrigerators. Televisions remained silent. And people everywhere scurried for a spot to charge their cell phones.

By and large, Americans tried to make the best of a situation that was beyond their control while utilities struggled to restore power – a massive job they warned could last well into next week.

Sandy’s footprint was enormous, knocking down wires and rendering other critical equipment useless across a huge span of the country, from Virginia to Massachusetts and as far west as the Great Lakes.

“It’s unprecedented: fallen trees, debris, the roads, water, snow. It’s a little bit of everything,” said Brian Wolff, senior vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, a group that lobbies for utilities.

For power companies, the scale of the destruction was unmatched. The damage is more widespread than any blizzard or ice storm. And it’s worse than the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

About 60 million people were initially without power in 8.2 million homes and businesses. By Wednesday night, that number had fallen to roughly 44 million people in 6 million households and businesses.

Even as power slowly returned to some pockets, a new headache emerged: Backup batteries and generators running cell phone towers were running out of juice. One out of every five towers was down, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

That – plus more people relying on their cell phones to stay connected – overwhelmed the system in some areas, making it hard to place calls.

For New Yorkers living in the vertical city, a loss of power means much more than spoiled cold cuts and frozen dinners. Electricity is needed to pump water to upper floors. Many New Yorkers prepared for the storm by stocking up on bottled water. But without power, there’s no way to flush the toilet.

Jake Tschudy was busy selling generators out of a truck parked on the side of a Rhode Island highway. He bought 70 of the Hyundai generators prior to the storm and was now asking $699 or $1,399 each, depending on the size. Tschudy wouldn’t say how much he marked up the price.

“I do OK,” he said. “It’s not gouging.”