NBC10.com - Matt DeLucia
PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez speaks on questions and concerns from frustrated customers who are still without power.
Five days after a major ice storm knocked out electricity to hundreds of thousands of people, PECO officials are now answering questions from frustrated customers.
As of Sunday afternoon, the total number of PECO Energy customers without power dropped to around 46,000 people, according to a PECO spokesperson.
Power crews from across North America worked hard to re-string power lines and get the juice flowing again as scores of homes turned into freezers among sub-freezing February temperatures. The continued work led to the closure of Route 100 in Chester County on Saturday. The road was closed for several hours as workers repaired damaged wires.
A spokesperson for PECO, the largest power provider in the Philadelphia region with more than 1.6 million customers, said damage in some areas was more severe than they anticipated. On Sunday, PECO tweeted that they expected service for most of their customers to be restored.
Service to be restored today for many customers without power. Thanks 4 patience as we make repairs after 2nd worst storm in PECO history.
— PECO (@PECOconnect) February 9, 2014
PECO officials also told NBC10 however that some of the most damaged spots could be down for a few more days.
On Saturday, PECO sent a team of employees to answer questions in Lower Makefield Township. Several frustrated residents who have been without power for days showed up, asking why they were still without electricity.
"You guys need to find out who's authorizing this stuff and get somebody that does authorize it and maintain it," said one man who attended the meeting. "That's all we're asking for. Do your job!"
PECO officials are holding open forums today at several locations in Bucks, Chester, and Montgomery Counties where they are answering questions from customers who are still without power. The forums are being held until 7 p.m. Sunday and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday.
They are taking place at the following locations:
Lower Makefield/Yardley: Municipal Building, 1100 Edgewood Road, Yardley, Pa.
New Britain Township/Chalfont Borough: Municipal Building, 207 Park Avenue, Chalfont, Pa.
Paoli: Paoli Fire Department, 69 Darby Road Paoli, Pa.
East Brandywine Township: Municipal Building, 1214 Horseshoe Pike, Downingtown, Pa.
Abington: Municipal Building, 1176 Old York Road, Abington, Pa.
Springfield Township: Municipal Building, 1510 Paper Mill Road, Wyndmoor, Pa.
"We will get the lights on," said PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez. "We're not going to stop until we do. That's our commitment. There's not a single person in the field or in this building that isn't 100% focused on how frustrated our customers are."
Many customers told NBC10 they were informed by PECO that their service was restored only to discover that their power was still off after they returned home. Menendez addressed those complaints during an interview with NBC10's Matt DeLucia.
"When we complete a repair job, our system will automatically send a message to customers on that circuit that says to them, we believe your service has been restored," Menendez said. "If it has not been, let us know. On that circuit and on those lines that connect to the tens of thousands of customers, there may be additional location of repairs that need to be made. While we complete one job and we begin to energize the line, the electricity will only go as far as the next spot of damage. Anyone beyond that still will remain without service. We need our customers to let us know that and then we can dispatch crews to that next location of damage and continue to make repairs until we're finished."
The storm, which coated the region in anywhere between a quarter-inch to a half-inch of ice, resulted in the second worst outage in PECO's history and their worst winter storm outage ever.
"This is the second-largest storm in terms of customer interruptions that we've had right behind Sandy," said PECO spokesman Greg Smore. "We had a total of 715,000 customers without power."
Menendez says the ice storm was "equally as devastating" as Superstorm Sandy in terms of outages.
"The thing that made it very different are the conditions that are crews faced getting to the job in the beginning when the roads were still icy and the storm was still progressing," she said. "Even now when our crews get on a job site, they have to typically dig out to set up their trucks. They have to chip away ice before they can even make the repairs. That's making the repairs last even longer."
By Friday morning, power was back on for more than 400,000 homes and businesses leaving about 280,000 customers without service after many crews worked overnight for the second-straight day. For hours the total amount of outages appeared to plateau around that level as crews continued to work.
"We will be working on this for many days to come," said Menendez.
PECO says snapped power lines, icy trees and cars crashing into utility poles were the main cause of outages for their customers.
The utility dispatched an army of 5,000 utility workers -- some crews from as far away as Arkansas, Illinois, and even Canada joined PECO's repair effort, according to Armstrong. Saturday afternoon, PSE&G, who restored service to the majority of its customers, sent 106 electric linemen to help.
“Ice storms are game-changers for utilities,” said John Latka, PSE&G’s vice president of electric operations. “PECO is faced with a daunting task given the extensive damage from this storm. Our employees know how important it is to get the lights back on, and even though conditions are difficult, answered the call for help.”
Officials say the out of state crews had to get acclimated to the power system and design in Pennsylvania before making repairs.
Some people took getting power back into their own hands with nearly deadly results.
"We ended up sending about 25 people to the hospital overnight -- four of them fairly critical -- because they were using gas grills or generators inside producing carbon monoxide," said Bob Kagel, deputy director of emergency management for Chester County.
Pennsylvania counties have fared the worst in this storm. Here's the breakdown of outages from PECO and PPL Electric, which also services several Pa. counties:
Several universities, including Villanova University, Rosemont College and Arcadia University were closed due to a loss of power.
Over in New Jersey, PSE&G said 9,180 customers, nearly all of them in Burlington and Mercer Counties, were without power at one point. By Friday morning, the utility announced that all power was restored.
By Saturday afternoon, Delmarva Power reported power had been restored to all affected customers in New Castle County, Del.
Officials urge people without power to alert the utility and DO NOT call 911.
You can use the following numbers to report your loss of power or make a report through each company's website.