JOINT BASE McGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST — More than a thousand military families were without power in the last week — many for nine days and counting — after a power surge destroyed an electrical substation.

The Oct. 4 surge, which caused the substation equipment to erupt in flames, knocked out electricity to 1,087 homes on the McGuire Air Force Base.

The length of the outage rivals the blackouts that parts of New Jersey experienced after Hurricane Irene, Superstorm Sandy and the nor'easter storms last winter.

"I can't define it any other way than catastrophic," said Matthew Garron, the property manager for United Communities, the private company that manages the housing on the joint base.

While crews were able to restore power to about half the homes by Tuesday and Wednesday, about 5 percent of the homes remained in the dark Friday, according to Garron. Work was expected to last until Saturday morning.

Complicating the restoration effort is that neither the substation, which lowers the voltage of the electricity provided by the power company, nor the community’s electrical distribution lines are serviced by a utility company. While Jersey Central Power & Light owns the equipment on the Fort Dix part of the base, the Air Force is responsible for the equipment on the McGuire side for security reasons, Garron said.

More than 3,700 people live on McGuire while another 7,700 live on Fort Dix.

The substation failure also knocked out about 150 transformers, which are meant to reduce power line voltage before the electricity enters homes.

A rain storm on Thursday further delayed work.

It is not clear what caused the power surge.

(United Communities via Facebook)
(United Communities via Facebook)

United Communities has been providing updates on the restoration effort through its Facebook page. Comments by residents got increasingly frustrated as the days mounted. Even homes that got power were asked to keep their electrical heating and air conditioning systems off.

United Communities made a community center building available for residents to use its kitchen facilties and recharge their electrical devices.

The company also provided pizza, a barbecue and breakfasts, as well as $10,000 worth of dry ice so that people could preserve food in their refrigerators.

Garron said the company has spent nearly $70,000 on events and services “just to try to lessen the burden.”

Garron said the company will offer to reimburse hotel rooms for families in the remaining homes without power — a courtesy they could not offer earlier because of the vast number of people affected.

The company also is considering providing some kind of reimbursement for the rent-paying families.

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