Crews from Arizona utility companies boarded a flight out of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Friday afternoon to help turn the power back on in the Northeast.
Nearly 100 employees from SRP and APS will join thousands of other utility workers from across the country to aid those impacted by Hurricane Sandy, which slammed into the East Coast on Tuesday.
Reports Friday afternoon said 3.5 million people were still without power and local power officials said it could be another week before everything was turned back on. One New York company reported it had more than 100,000 down power lines around New York City.
The crews from SRP and APS included journeymen, ground crews and electricians. A dozen military flights started taking off Friday morning out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to transport the trucks and equipment needed.
Steve Gotfried of APS said his team was headed to Melville, N.Y. Altogether, there were 21 line crews going to help the Long Island Power Authority for the next two weeks at least.
Vince Featherly, SRP’s senior director of distribution design, construction and maintenance, said there were 60,000 temporary power workers headed to New York, including the team from Arizona.
“Utilities in the United States have a long history of working together when needed,” he said in a release. “We realize how difficult the situation is there for the utilities and their customers and we’re happy to help in any way we can.”
He said crews from Los Angeles and San Diego were also on the way to the East Coast.
“The entire country is sending people back there,” he said prior to the flight Friday.
Tom Jeffers, a lineman for nearly seven years at SRP, is a veteran of disaster situations. During his career, he’s volunteered to go into communities after Hurricane Charley in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and several others.
“The biggest thing is cleaning up the threes and the lines. The trees are everywhere,” he said of what’s going on in New York. “Plus, with this hurricane, there’s a lot of flooding.”
Members will work 16 hours on, then eight hours off, to put up power pole after power pole. The hours are similar to what he works here in the Valley, Jeffers said, but sometimes the attitudes are different.
“When we are on everyday assignments, sometimes you get a bad feeling from someone. But when you get to a disaster site, they are so appreciative. Just to get the power back up, they know you’re going to work a lot of long hours,” Jeffers said.
As the flight prepared to leave from Mesa Friday, Jeffers said the crews didn’t know where they would be staying, which is often the case when entering a disaster site, he said.
“You’ve got to take care of the public first,” he said, noting that any available hotel rooms go to people who cannot get into their homes. In some situations, the volunteers stay on gymnasium floors.
The crews will not only be dealing with a massive outage, but weather. The high temperatures in Melville over the next few days are expected to be in the low 50s with the lows down to 32.
SRP is the Valley’s largest provider of power. APS is the state’s largest electrical utility, with services in 11 of the state’s 15 counties.
Besides sending crews and equipment, SRP gathered water to send to hurricane victims. Those bottles, including some gathered in Gilbert by the school community, also made the trip on the military flights.
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