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As post-Sandy power outages dwindle, LIPA rage lingers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of households and businesses still without power in the Eastern United States nearly two weeks after Superstorm Sandy hit fell below 300,000 on Saturday, with nearly half of those on New York's Long Island, government data showed.

The Long Island Power Authority, or LIPA, which has come under growing criticism over its response to Sandy, still had 130,000 customers without power, half of those in Nassau County and over 30,000 on the Rockaway Peninsula, according to LIPA figures. That's down from 207,000 customers on Friday.

In total, 145,000 customers across the affected area had their power restored over the past day, the Department of Energy said, leaving 289,239 without power in New York, New Jersey and West Virginia by Saturday morning.

Some 8.5 million people across nearly two dozen East Coast states lost power after Sandy delivered an unprecedented blow to the New York City area. Another 150,000 were cut off when a Nor'easter blew through a week later.

Other utilities were also hard hit but have recovered more quickly. New Jersey's Public Service Enterprise Group (PSE&G), which had peak outages of some 1.7 million, had restored power to all but 23,000 of them by Saturday morning, most of those related to the Nor'easter, PSEG said.

Consolidated Edison, which serves New York City and Westchester County, had only 15,000 customers without power, down from over 1 million, according to its website.

Almost all of state-owned LIPA's 1.1 million customers lost power in Sandy; still more were knocked out by the Nor'easter that came a week later. It now has 14,000 people, including 8,200 utility workers and tree-trimmers, working in its area.

The utility has been among the slowest to recover, making it a target of fierce criticism from both local residents and state politicians. Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday that LIPA had "failed the consumers," and has threatened to replace the group's management.

At LIPA's headquarters in Hicksville on Saturday, residents vented their anger and frustration at a peaceful protest of a few hundred people. Two 13-year-old girls held up white cardboard signs decrying LIPA's slow response. One, in pink letters, read: "LIPA Stinks!"

One of the girls' mother, former NYPD cop Diane Uhlfelder, said her family has been without power for 12 days.

"It's been terrible,'' she said. Every night "... we wake up in the middle of the night and it's freezing. My sister's asthma has been acting up because of the cold."

John Michno, 36, of Westbury, who is unemployed, said he lost power the Monday night of the storm, got it back last Monday, and then lost it again on Thursday.

"It's maddening," he said. "It's so cold in my house it's been very difficult to sleep. I wake up, turn on the gas on the stove just to get warm, and then turn it off and try to go back to bed."

(Reporting By Chris Francescani and Jonathan Leff; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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