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Hurricane Sandy blackouts hit millions. Can power companies cope?

With days of warnings that giant hurricane Sandy would hit the Northeast, power companies positioned supplies and thousands of extra line workers to deal with the onslaught of blackouts.

By Staff writer / October 29, 2012

Waters flood Ocean Ave. in Sea Bright, N.J., Monday, Oct. 29. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain.

Seth Wenig/AP

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The number of power outages caused by hurricane Sandy as it barreled toward the New Jersey shore shot up Monday afternoon and then soared in the evening, posing a growing challenge to utility companies that were bracing for the storm’s worst effects.

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By mid-afternoon, with the giant storm still about 100 miles at sea and hours before its expected landfall in the evening, more than 300,000 consumers in 11 states were left in the dark. That was a big jump in overall outages from the six states and 36,400 customers that had reported being out of power just six hours earlier, according to the US Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

But the numbers reported to the DOE and relayed on its websites were quickly overshadowed by those reportedly directly by utilities: By 6 p.m. more than 2,100,000 customers were without power in 11 states: New Jersey utilities reported 606,671 in the dark, New York 593,992, Massachusetts 316,190, Connecticut 229,440, the Delmarva region 141,613, Rhode Island 109,182, Virginia 43,300, Pennsylvania 26,615,North Carolina 6,466, and New Hampshire 28,427.

It was not yet clear whether the disruptions caused by Sandy would rival or surpass those from hurricane Irene, which knocked out power to more than 9.3 million customers along the East Coast and Puerto Rico in August 2011, about 6 million of those in 13 East Coast states.

With days of advance warning, utility companies had busily pre-positioned supplies and secured thousands of line workers to help restore power after the storm makes landfall. Linemen and other workers from as far away as Midwestern states were on their way, although it was not known until late this weekend that the brunt of the storm was most likely to be felt just south of New York City.

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which represents investor-owned utilities representing approximately 70 percent of the US electric power industry, said Monday that its member utilities were moving to restore power as fast as possible.

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