FEATURE-New Orleans linemen square Katrina debt with Sandy aid

Sun Nov 4, 2012 11:59pm EST
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By Jilian Mincer and Suzanne Barlyn and Eileen O'Grady

NEW YORK Nov 5 (Reuters) - On the 19th floor of Consolidated Edison's Manhattan headquarters, the veteran lineman briefing a roomful of 100 out-of-town utility workers had a lot of advice, from the practical to the profane.

"Be careful," he said, conscious that half of those in the room -- most of whom had driven over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to aid in the biggest U.S. power recovery effort ever -- had never set foot in New York City before. "We have all kinds of people here."

He cautioned them to lock their vehicles or things would disappear. He briefed them on storm damage and clean-up strategy, and warned them of the heavy stench of diesel fumes across lower Manhattan, which was still being power by hundreds of generators after Hurricane Sandy delivered a knock-out blow to the city's power network.

And for the younger, single men in their midst: "If you pick up a woman, be sure it's a woman."

It was familiar patter for Glenn Nicholas and his co-workers from New Orleans, who had been to New York before to train with Con Edison. They had returned this week to "repay a debt," said Nicholas, 54, an operations coordinator with Entergy Corp who has worked on power lines for 34 years.

"When Katrina hit, we tried to handle it alone, and it was too big," he said. "We reached out to Con Ed, and they saved our butts." So when the New York utility company called last Monday as the storm was hammering the region "we volunteered."

The New Orleans workers are among an estimated 64,000 linemen, transmission and distribution workers, network technicians and tree trimmers from Canada and across the U.S. helping the East Cost clean up after Sandy, part of an unprecedented effort under the "mutual aid" systems that form critical links in the industry's emergency-response planning.

By Sunday, the storm had left at least 113 dead in North America, nearly 2 million still without power and as much as $50 billion in losses. It may be another week or longer before power is fully restored, despite the thousands of crews that have descended on the region from as far away as California.   Continued...