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Crews struggle to restore power in coastal New Jersey

By Philip Barbara

BELMAR, New Jersey (Reuters) - Utility crews are working hard to restore power to hundreds of towns on the Jersey Shore after superstorm Sandy, but progress in the coastal town of Belmar resulted in smoking electrical outlets in several structures and at least one house fire, officials said on Monday.

In Belmar, a town of about 6,000 people east of Trenton, when crews reconnected one neighborhood late Sunday night to the power grid, it created sparks in an electrical box in a flooded basement and started a fire. There were no injuries, but the utility had to turn off power again, and the affected neighborhood remained dark Monday.

"My fear is that what happened last night will happen again," said Mayor Matt Doherty. "This time no one was home, but we have to make sure no one gets hurt."

Belmar officials and the utility, Jersey City Power and Light, are trying to avoid a repeat of the incident, he said. Town officials are identifying structures that are still flooded to utility crews as they go block-by-block to rebuild the power-distribution system. The crews are disconnecting these buildings from the power lines so power may be restored around them.

"We're working together. We know the affected homes and the utility men know how to disconnect them," he said. But at some point on Sunday, the utility crews got ahead of themselves, he said.

Last night's problem will not slow down the restoration of power to the town, he said.

On Sunday night and Monday morning, Belmar's fire department made 30 runs, many of them to homes where electrical outlets smoked and shorted out, and to douse the one fire, he said.

(Reporting by Philip Barbara; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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