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Power companies go on defensive in darkened East
Where it's still in the dark after Irene, power companies go on the defensive
By The Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) ' Some power companies in the East are going on the defensive against criticism over the tens of thousands of lingering power outages nearly a week after Hurricane Irene swept up the coast.

NStar, a major utility in Massachusetts, took out a full-age ad in Friday's edition of the Boston Globe with the headline "Goodnight, Irene."

"Being ready for Mother Nature is one thing," the ad read. "Responding to her is another. We know trees will come down. We didn't know which ones."

As of Friday afternoon, NStar said fewer than 3,000 customers in Massachusetts lacked power. Another big utility, National Grid, expected fewer than 5,000 homes in the dark at the end of the day.

At one point, the state had more than 500,000 customers without power. They were among more than 9 million that Irene plunged into darkness from the Carolinas to Maine.

Utilities in many spots have been criticized by politicians and homeowners who say response times were slow and outreach efforts to customers poor.

In Rhode Island, a state senator called for an investigation, and a Massachusetts lawmaker plans to file legislation that would require utilities to rebate customers two days of service for every one day they are without power.

The companies have noted that Irene was an unusual weather event and that crews have been working around the clock.

In Washington, Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson said the company ran three radio advertisements before, during and after the storm.

The utility, which has some 778,000 customers in the District of Columbia and neighboring regions, also planned to run a large ad in Sunday's editions of The Washington Post, thanking customers for their understanding during the storm.

In Baltimore and environs, where some 32,000 people still lacked power Friday afternoon, Baltimore Gas and Electric took out ads to thank customers for their patience and explain who would get power back first.

The company started running a 60-second radio ad this week on several radio stations, spokesman Robert Gould said.

"The impact is severe and widespread, including massive numbers of trees and large limbs that damaged power lines and other equipment," the ad says in part, concluding: "Thank you again for your patience. Together we'll weather."

Connecticut continues to be among the states hit hardest by power outages, with more than 170,000 customers still going without as of Friday. That's down from a peak of 830,000 after the storm hit Sunday.

Virginia still had about 90,000 residents without power as of Friday, down from more than a million, and fewer than 13,000 North Carolina residents lacked power.

Irene has been blamed for at least 46 deaths in 13 states from Florida northward, along with several in the Caribbean.

Two of the hardest hit U.S. states were New Jersey, where the hurricane made its second landfall and sent rivers over their banks twice, and Vermont, where inland rains from what was by then a tropical storm caused flash flooding that washed out roads and isolated many communities.

The White House has declared a major disaster in Vermont, clearing the way for federal aid for repairs. The declaration, signed by President Barack Obama, makes individual assistance available for homeowners in Chittenden, Rutland, Washington and Windsor counties and public assistance available for infrastructure in 13 of the state's 14 counties, excluding Grand Isle.


Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko in Washington and Jay Lindsay in Boston contributed to this report.

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