NEW YORK (AP) – A group of Queens political leaders urged Gov. George Pataki on Sunday to designate a section of the borough suffering from a massive power outage a disaster area, making it eligible for federal aid.

“Anywhere else it would be,” said Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., at a news conference in Sunnyside. “If this were an area of 100,000 people in upstate New York, the governor would have declared it a disaster area.”

A spokeswoman for Pataki, Joanna Rose, said the governor has spoken with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and has offered any assistance necessary. “We believe that it is (utility Consolidated Edison) that should make restitution to those who have suffered,” she said.

Bloomberg said earlier that electricity had been restored to 13,000 of an estimated 25,000 Consolidated Edison customers who lost power during last week’s heat wave and that Con Ed workers were laboring to restore power to the rest. “Are we satisfied with the progress?” he asked. “It is what it is.”

Con Ed’s CEO, Kevin Burke, said there was no way to estimate how long those still affected would be without power.

Speaking to reporters at an Office of Emergency Management staging site in Astoria, Bloomberg urged local residents to put aside their frustrations over the weeklong power failure and thank the workers trying to correct it.

“The Con Ed workers are working an enormous number of hours. I don’t think anyone should be satisfied, but the city’s response has been as good as it could be,” he said.

But City Councilman Eric Gioia, D-Queens, said Burke should resign over his handling of the blackout.

“When the lights went out, that was just the tip of the iceberg,” he told The Associated Press before a news conference in Woodside. “Since then, Con Ed has misled the public about the severity of the situation, failed to grasp that we are in a crisis and shown no plan to put the power back on and ensure the health and safety of people in Queens.”

And state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, another Queens Democrat, said Con Ed officials should be held criminally responsible because their early underestimates of the number of people affected by the blackout may have slowed the city’s response.

“How can anyone believe anything Con Ed says?” he demanded. “I think what they did was criminal, and I hope to see some people who work at Con Ed in handcuffs before this is over.”

Asked to respond to the criticism later Sunday, Burke said, “I am now focused exclusively on restoration.”

He said the causes of the blackout would be investigated later.

Along Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, some businesses had lights while others didn’t.

There was no electricity at Queens Mini Market, where employee Vijoy Pal estimated losses so far at $5,000. “We are losing, losing,” he said.

Bliss Nail Salon had lights but was stuffy with no air conditioning. “I don’t know why,” said manager Amy Chung. “It’s one week already. We lose a lot of customers.”

Bloomberg said there was still no indication when all power would be re-established, or why the Queens area suffered the massive blackout while the rest of the city did not.

Con Ed earlier described the situation as unprecedented, with 10 of 22 main power feeders breaking down at the same time, at the height of the heat wave. The problem worsened when lower-voltage cables were apparently damaged by carrying excess voltage as Con Ed tried to keep the system up and running without the main feeders.

Bloomberg said the focus for now should be on getting the power back rather than Con Ed diverting resources to figure out what happened. Once everybody is back there will be time to go back and analyze, he said, adding, “Whether it was something that could have been prevented, I have no idea.”

He said Con Ed promised a report within two weeks.

Crime has shown no significant change during the blackout, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said. One burglary was reported overnight and area calls to 911 were at the same level as a year ago, he said, adding that 700 police officers had been added to patrols there.

City officials said that small businesses could apply to be reimbursed for up to $7,000 in perishable losses and that an emergency loan fund would be announced within a few days. They said that nine senior citizen centers with air conditioning and meals that are usually closed weekends would remain open Sunday and that no price gouging had been reported.

The Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other relief agencies served 20,000 meals on Saturday and planned to serve 22,000 on Sunday, said Red Cross official Scott Graham.

AP-ES-07-23-06 1701EDT


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