Courtesy of OConnell Electric
Powerline crews around New York State struggled with lines damaged by trees.
Debra K. Rubin for ENR
John Pequet of Townsend Corp. traveled from Livonia, Mich. to New Jersey to help in Hurricane Sandy power restoration.

Contractors based in areas struck by Hurricane Sandy pulled in additional hands from their region, joined by workers and companies well beyond, in a repair and restoration campaign of epic dimensions.

One electrical worker who came in from Michigan was told only to head East "until you get to the ocean."

Depending on logistical finesse and strong determination, crews tackled post-hurricane repairs, from restoring power to the still millions in the dark in New Jersey, New York and elsewhere, to aiding clients with cleanup and structural repairs.

Some crews were already in place as the storm made landfall on October 29.

New York City-based E-J Electric starting gathering union electrical workers, most coming from IBEW Local 42, and equipment as Sandy grew in strength.

After gathering forces from Local 42 in Manchester, Conn., E-J "expanded our search to locals as far south as Florida and as far west as Arizona,” says CEO Anthony Mann in an email. Altogether, the company fielded 20 crews plus supervisors.

The company also got an early start securing additional available equipment from preferred vendors and the tooling to ensure that crews are adequately tooled "to perform ANY task assignments safely and productively,” he says.

Mann says company crews were dispatched to service Long Island-based KeySpan Energy, a holding company for its client, National Grid. “Working 16 hour days, our crews are determined to get power restored in record time.”

As additional resources from other divisions within E-J become available, they will be added to the contingent currently offering support.

"Five days from when the crews first began their restoration efforts," says Mann, "nearly 400,000 customers have been reported to have been restored, but a clear and definitive date is still not attainable.”

O’Connell Electric Co. dispatched 116 workers and 68 pieces of equipment and vehicles from its base in upstate New York, near Rochester, to stricken locations in Long Island for National Grid and in Brewster, N.Y. for client Iberdrola, CEO Victor E. Salerno reports by e-mail. He estimates they will be on sites for “probably close to three weeks.”  

Salerno notes that “Our lineman are telling us that they have only scratched the surface as we are approaching the end of the first week. They are currently focusing on the easy stuff that will put a lot of customers back online. It is going to take time to get some of the smaller load pockets back up.”

Extent of Damage Troubling

Salerno says, “The troubling part is that the damage is so widespread, it is not just Long Island, NYC and New Jersey, there is damage all across the Northeast. Outages in areas that would normally take a day or two to restore are taking a week because the resources are spread so thin.”

Indiana-based Townsend Corp. sent 510 employees in 194 crews for line clearance and construction, from locations in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana, the Carolinas and Georgia, says company spokesman John Roselle.

“We started deploying Saturday to Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia; we are involved with seven different utility companies,” he says. “Many crews arrived in the affected areas by Sunday and then rode out the storm, starting work Tuesday morning.”

John Pequet, a member of electrical workers’ union Local 17 in Southfield, Mich., told ENR that, when dispatched on Oct. 28, his crew was told to “keep going until you get to the ocean.”

The employee of Townsend unit NG Gilbert and his peers ended up about 100 miles short of that in Millburn, NJ, where they were repairing power outages caused by very high hurricane winds that ripped giant century-old trees out of the ground.