For many who woke up this morning, it was not a White Christmas. It was dark.
A strong storm accompanied by strong gusts of wind knocked down trees and utility lines overnight, at one point turning off the power of more than 100,000 utility customers in New Jersey.
By mid-morning, more than 87,300 homes and businesses still lacked lighting and the damage was so extensive and involving so many individual lines that the concessionaire’s employees warned that it could take days to recover.
The storm path was widespread, from Gloucester to Bergen counties. Fallen wires in South Brunswick shut down Route 1 normally occupied in both directions. Trees in Teaneck have been reported across the city, with more than 2,500 customers without power since 9:00 am.
Public Service Electric & Gas Co., the state’s largest utility company, still had more than 13,000 of its 2.3 million customers without service at 10:30 am, more than half of them in Bergen County.
Ohio-based FirstEnergy, the parent company of Jersey Central Power & Light Co., reported mid-morning that more than 35,000 of its 1.1 million customers were out of service. JCP & L supplies electricity to Burlington, Essex, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren counties.
“The challenge today is to be Christmas and, as it is a widespread weather event, there are not many other dealerships capable of providing mutual assistance,” said FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin. “Our teams are there and will continue to work.”
He was unable to provide an estimate for the restoration, but due to the huge damage to trees in the area, there will likely be customers without power during Christmas day, the company said.
By mid-morning, the concessionaire reported that its teams had restored power to some 75,000 customers and continued to work 24 hours a day to restore service to the remaining customers. More than half of those interruptions occurred in Monmouth County.
JCP & L has been repeatedly criticized in the past for its slow pace of service restoration after being hit by severe weather, and even at Christmas, customers repeatedly asked why it was taking so long.
The company said that after a storm, there are typically hundreds, even thousands, of damaged sites that line crews must deal with. The company said its top priority is to eliminate the risks – such as overturned power lines, felled trees and equipment blocking the roads – and then assess the damage so that line crews can access the outage site and start making repairs.
Orange & Rockland Utilities, which serves more than 72,000 New Jersey customers in Bergen, Passaic and Sussex counties, reported that about 4,000 of them were still out of service on Christmas morning – mainly in Bergen.
A company spokesman said the company’s electricians and contractors, tree removal teams and more than 140 additional employees from other utilities worked overnight on Christmas Eve to restore power to nearly 20,000 people who lost electricity because of from heavy rain and strong gusts of wind.
The mutual aid teams obtained by O&R have doubled the company’s emergency response resources.
“The company also called on vacation and holiday employees to work in the storm,” said spokesman Mike Donovan, who was also among those summoned to the vacation.
Atlantic City Electric Co., which serves the southern tip of the state, said restoration efforts could take days. About 7,400 of the company’s 546,000 customers were without power at 10:30 am
“The storm caused major damage to our service area, cutting down trees and cutting down tree branches that brought down power lines and damaged electrical equipment, disrupting electrical service for customers,” said Frank Tedesco, a spokesman for Atlantic Electric. “Although the storm caused damage and disruptions across our service area, most of the disruptions are located in Atlantic, Gloucester and Salem counties, where we saw some pockets of stronger winds.”
He said that teams from Atlantic City Electric, outside contractors and mutual assistance utility teams – some from as far away as Florida – are working to restore service.
“A significant amount of work remains to repair the damage and customers must be prepared for a multi-day restoration effort,” said Tedesco. “We expect to have the vast majority of customers restored today, however, some customers are expected to be affected over the weekend.”
Local journalism needs your support. Subscribe to nj.com/supporter.