About 400,000 Connecticut Light & Power customers across the state have had their power restored in the last day or so, the utility reported.
That leaves another 400,000 or so customers still in the dark as of about 7 a.m., Aug. 30, with full restoration to take a week or more, Chief Executive Officer Jeff Butler said Tuesday morning in a conference call with reporters.
"I certainly don't expect it to go two weeks," he said. "This is by far the biggest event that has hit CL&P and per the governor, Connecticut."
At its peak, 672,000 customers across the state were without power, and the number has ebbed and flowed as electricity has been restored in some areas and knocked out again in other places, Butler said.
Crews number 854 at this point — 488 line crews with a speciality in pole and wire repair and 366 tree crews there to clear the road of tree debris. An additional 75 crews were on their way to the state with 43 expected Tuesday, Butler said.
This has been the largest restoration effort the company has been involved in, breaking the outage record previously set by Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and also surpassing staffing levels of many prior storms, officials said.
"We recognize that electricity is the lifeblood of our lifestyle today," Butler said. "We recognize that but it's going to take time. The amount of damage we have is unprecedented."
Worker shortage has made it difficult for CL&P to fully staff its restoration efforts, Butler said. The company had planned to have 1,000 crews working across the state but ran into difficulties getting enough staff, particularly from out of state.
Some out-of-state crews, which were promised to Connecticut, never made it while others were recalled due to staffing needs in their hometowns, which also experienced storm damage, Butler said.
"Crews that people were expecting to be released got held or just didn't arrive," he said.
The company started last Wednesday trying to bolster its staffing levels and officials had thought they had enough. But Tropical Storm Irene wreaked damage on several states across the eastern seaboard, which in turn reduced the pool of available resources, Butler said.
"This is widespread impact from the Carolinas into Canada," he said.
The company has tried reaching farther afield, including flying 34 workers in from the Seattle and British Colombia area, Butler said. Crews from Colorado, as well as Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and Michigan among others, have additionally been brought in.
"We have never quit trying to find crews," he said. "We have reached pretty much across the eastern seaboard."
The damage in the state is widespread although the eastern areas were hit harder, Butler said. The priority for crews have been to restore power to hospitals and healthcare facilities first.
All hospitals in the state have had their electricity restored, Butler said. Officials also are aware of the need to restore power to schools and wastewater treatment plants, he said.
With more than 1,000 roads closed across the state due to the storm damage, CL&P said it has cleared 320 of those to date.
The storm response was in contrast to the storm in March that knocked out power primarily in southwest Connecticut. In that storm, about half as many crews — 561 — were deployed, officials said. In that storm, finding hotel rooms for workers was a logistical issue, while in this case, finding the workers is the harder part, Butler said.
"We are doing everything possible to bring more resources," he said.