NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of homes and businesses still without power nearly a week after Hurricane Sandy hit the U.S. Northeast fell to 1.9 million on Sunday morning, down from 2.5 million the previous afternoon, although a quarter of New Jersey and almost a tenth of New York remained in the dark, the Department of Energy said.
As of Sunday, power had been restored to critical infrastructure and preparations were being made to ensure polling places would have power on Election Day. But those without power will still have to wait longer as utilities are preparing to tackle the more labor-intensive outages in their service areas, industry sources said.
At its peak, more than 8.5 million customers were without power after Sandy tore across the greater New York City area. Most of those in other states have been restored, but nearly 1 million in New Jersey and almost 730,000 in New York state are still without power as a cold front threatens the area.
"We're putting a lot more manpower into those areas today as we go into tomorrow," said Brian L. Wolff, senior vice president of external affairs at Edison Electric Institute, an industry group.
About 67,000 workers were out in the fields helping with restoration efforts, he said. But the overall rate of restoration was slowing, he said, as utilities were moving to repair lines and poles, which affect smaller numbers of customers.
"That's the real labor-intensive stuff that it's just street-to-street, house-to-house, neighborhood-by-neighborhood," Wolff said, adding that some 150,000 to 200,000 customers "have such a level of physical destruction that they won't be able to restore electricity for quite some time."
In New Jersey, where many coastal towns experienced severe devastation, about 25 percent of utility customers were still without power. Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) and Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) - two major electricity providers - each had about half a million customers without power.
PSE&G, which provides power to about 2.2 million customers across a wide swath of central New Jersey, said 493,000 were still without power. But critical infrastructure serviced by the utility had its power restored, a senior executive told reporters on a conference call Sunday.
"We have restored power to all of the refineries and pipeline suppliers that we are aware of," PSE&G President and Chief Operating Officer Ralph A. LaRossa said.
About 78 percent of gasoline stations had power restored, as well as 80 percent of schools, LaRossa said. Seven power substations, including six in Hudson County, were still being restored and the utility was busy coordinating power restoration efforts with local authorities for polling places in time for Election Day.
"We'll be in pretty good shape by Tuesday," LaRossa said.
JCP&L, which provides power to 1.1 million customers in 13 New Jersey counties, had 485,000 without power as of Sunday morning, according to a spokesperson. The utility is targeting restoration to most customers by Wednesday, the spokesperson said.
In New York, approximately 210,000 Con Edison customers were still without electricity, out of an estimated 940,000 affected, the utility said in a statement. Con Edison said it expects to have the "vast majority" of impacted customers restored to power by next weekend.
Another 370,000 New York customers served by the Long Island Power Authority were also without power, a spokesperson said in an email. The power provider expects to have 90 percent of customers restored by Wednesday evening. About 675,000 Long Island Power Authority customers had been restored since Sunday, the spokesperson said.
Speaking at a press conference Sunday morning, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called the power restoration numbers "nice" but said the problem is not solved until customers have power in their homes.
Cuomo reiterated his promise to hold power companies "100 percent" accountable for their performance during restoration efforts.