Northeast power outages hit many businesses hard

Nov 08, 2011 By DAVE COLLINS and STEPHEN SINGER , Associated Press
FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2011 file photo, Connecticut Light & Power workers tend to a high voltage power line in Windsor Locks, Conn. Over 90% of the town has been without power since the Oct. 29, 2011 snowstorm. Tens of thousands of Connecticut residents went to bed wondering whether they would awake Monday, Nov. 7, 2011, to find themselves among an unenviable fraternity: the small percentage of people entering their second week without power.(AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

(AP) -- Businesses big and small have taken a beating from the power outages caused by the record-setting October snowstorm and the losses are only beginning to be tallied, owners and experts said Monday as tens of thousands of Connecticut homes and companies entered a second week without electricity.

"I think there's going to be a huge trickle-down effect and we may not know the results for several months," said Andy Markowski, Connecticut director for the National Federation of Independent Business. "I don't know of any small business that can afford to lose a week or more of sales. ... We're just literally and figuratively beginning to pick up the pieces."

The Oct. 29-30 storm dumped heavy snow across the Northeast and downed scores of trees and utility wires. Three million homes and businesses lost at the height of the storm.

Connecticut was hit the hardest, racking up more than 830,000 outages, and more than 37,000 utility customers remained in the dark Monday. New Jersey utilities said everyone was back on line, while Massachusetts power companies were working to restore electricity to about 300 customers.

The storm also is affecting municipal elections Tuesday in Connecticut, where nine cities and towns were moving and consolidating their polling places. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said some polling locations do not yet have electricity while others have been damaged or are being used as shelters and warming centers.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has called the duration of the outages unacceptable and has launched an independent probe of the utilities' response. He said the state is keeping its legal options open in case there are grounds for recourse in the courts once the circumstances are examined.

When asked how he planned to hold the utilities accountable for the slow recovery response, as he has promised, the governor said it will be through the state's regulatory process.

"We can bring dockets and ask for things to happen with respect to how they conduct their business and what way they conduct their business and what they recover losses for, for instance," said the governor, who said he presumed that the investigation of Connecticut Light and Power, the state's largest utility, would uncover "some degree of malfeasance" and could lead to legal action by the state.

Some homes and businesses weren't expected to get their power back until Wednesday night.

No power and no water meant no work for Angela Campetti, who runs a small house-cleaning business in Simsbury, Conn. All 10,100 electricity customers in the town were without power for several days and nearly half still weren't restored by Monday.

Campetti said she lost a significant amount of money because of the outages and hasn't been able to pay herself or her two employees at First Class Housekeeping.

"I'm not very happy," she said. "All the houses I was supposed to clean the power was out and my employees weren't able to go out and clean. You can't go in there with your vacuum."

The outages have affected a wide variety of companies, Markowski said, including small machine shops, home-based businesses and restaurants that were hit with the double whammy of losing sales and having to throw out food.

Peter Gioia, an economist at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said large companies also took big hits to their revenues. Though some businesses such as tree trimming and gas stations did well during the extended outages, many others were forced to shut, he said.

"The net effect is a minus," Gioia said.

He added that the CBIA's incoming email and website visits were down 50 percent during the week when power was out, reflecting that many businesses were not open.

Insurance agents, meanwhile, are reporting higher volumes of claims for business interruption insurance than what was submitted during hurricanes Irene and Lee, said Dan Corbin, director of research at Glenmont, N.Y.-based Professional Insurance Agents.

Business interruption insurance could include payments for lost profit and extra expenses such as moving to a different site that has electricity. To make a claim, the insured must prove property damage.

Insurance typically pays for continuing expenses such as rent or mortgage payments, payroll to avoid laying off workers and replacements of perishable goods, Corbin said.

One place that was not affected was the mall in Manchester, Conn.

General Manager Nancy Murray said that because The Shoppes at Buckland Hills are served by underground wires, they did not lose power and became a magnet for people in search of food, heat and power to charge cellphones and other equipment.

"It especially affected people the first Sunday," she said. "We were packed that day."

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