About 9,000 Southern California Edison (SCE) customers remained without electricity Tuesday, due to outages from fierce Santa Ana winds that pummeled the Southland last week, a utility spokeswoman said.
"The silent voice in all of this has been Edison," Supervisor Michael Antonovich said, after discussing county efforts to clear fallen trees and debris. Antonovich is county mayor and represents District 5 which includes Chatsworth.
He accused the utility of not planning ahead, saying it had been slow to get information to customers, gave out inaccurate information and left many residents frustrated and unsure about what to do during the disaster.
"This storm has certainly been unprecedented in our experience," Veronica Gutierrez, director of public affairs for SCE, told the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
Gutierrez said the utility had tried to reach customers through the media, by calling them on battery-powered cell phones and sending representatives door-to-door. But damage in some areas had hampered access and efforts to restore power and talk to customers.
Edison brought in crews from as far away as San Diego and Bakersfield to try and get the power back on for 419,000 customers without electricity following the high winds, she said.
Gutierrez was one of three SCE representatives appearing before the board to answer questions about the utility's communications with customers during the outages, which were triggered by hurricane-force winds howling through mountain passes.
The San Gabriel Valley foothills were the hardest hit, with trees toppled and branches, leaves and palm fronds piled up so deep they looked like drifts of snow, Gutierrez said. Some people were evacuated, and property damage associated with the high winds was extensive.
Estimates for cleaning up in Arcadia alone totaled $2 million, Supervisor Antonovich said.
Gutierrez said 276 SCE crews were on the job Tuesday, repairing damage and restoring service.
Crews worked first to restore power for hospitals, fire and police stations, then moved on to the electrical circuits serving the most customers -- all part of an effort to restore service as fast as possible, Gutierrez said.
But he acknowledged that SCE needed a better way to communicate with ratepayers, saying SCE would reconsider how to reach the hardest hit areas. In some cases, roads were blocked by trees and other debris.
"There should have been police cars, sheriff's cars out there with loudspeakers letting people know what was going on," suggested Supervisor Don Knabe. He said a more coordinated effort by the utility, using county resources, could have helped to get the word out to those who no longer had working televisions, radios or cell phones.
Los Angeles County and several cities, including Alhambra, Arcadia, Glendora, Monrovia South Pasadena, Pasadena, San Gabriel, San Marino, Sierra Madre, South Pasadena and Temple City, declared a state of emergency.
The board ratified the declaration of a local emergency and directed staffers to work with SCE on a communications plan for emergencies.
-- City News Service