Iowa Alliant workers restoring power after Superstorm Sandy
Nov 03, 2012 (Menafn - The Hawk Eye - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --They had only 24 hours to prepare for a trip that would send them into the heart of the devastation left by Superstorm Sandy.
Eighty Alliant Energy employees left Iowa Sunday for Lake Katrine, N.Y., to help utility customers recover from Sandy in the company's largest mutual aid response ever. Three of those workers are from Burlington, two are from Keokuk, and one is from Fort Madison.
They all volunteered for the job.
"On Friday (Oct. 26), we got the call they would need help from our help. On Saturday, we made the call we were going, and the crews left Sunday," said Justin Foss, a spokesman with Alliant Energy. "They didn't have a whole lot of lead time."
East Coast utilities requested several thousand line mechanics and tree clearance crews from across the country. Alliant Energy crews from 19 communities in Iowa and eight communities in Wisconsin responded to the expected damage.
"I am glad our company chose to be a part of the restoration effort here. The people here truly need help. When we tell them we are from Iowa, they are really surprised that we have come that far to help get the power back on. They really appreciate the work we're doing," said Burlington lineman Tom Brueck.
Crews packed for a trip that could last as long as two weeks if more help is needed.
"We had a lot of guys volunteer, but only a few could go. And we're only able to send the big response companywide because the crews back home are picking up the extra work and doing a great job," Foss said.
The crews have been working 16-hour shifts since arriving at Lake Katrine, taking just enough time to eat and sleep before getting back to work. The local linemen were restoring power near the Catskill Mountains as of Thursday, and they don't know if they'll be heading back after this weekend or staying another week to provide more assistance. The utility companies in New York will cover 100 percent of the cost of bringing over the Alliant Energy linemen.
"Things are going good. It's a lot of hard work but very gratifying. Times like these are why you become a lineman. Our No. 1 goal is to work hard, be safe and get power back on so the people here can get their lives back," said Keokuk lineman John Brennan.
Foss has heard several stories from New York since the crews left nearly a week ago. One of the Iowa linemen met a New Yorker who wrestled under legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable.
"One night this week, they restored power to three little homes, and as soon as the lights came on, the people in one of the houses opened the windows and started yelling 'Iowa!' " Foss said.
States all up and down the East Coast, including battlegrounds like Virginia and North Carolina, canceled early voting hours this week due to the storm damage and lack of power. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie acknowledged there could be some polling places without power as of Election Day Tuesday.
The devastation won't keep the Alliant Energy linemen from voting, though. Foss said the company was able to make contact with a law firm in New York that requested absentee ballots for the workers.
"We had to work with county auditors and election officials in Iowa, and because of the way election laws work, we can't carry the ballots back. They have to be FedExed. It's been a logistical challenge," Foss said.
Fort Madison lineman Jack Fry said the people of New York have been nothing but gracious. The Alliant Energy trucks have the city and state they originate from painted across the side, so they're easy to pick out.
"The people here have been very happy to see us. Lots of people stopping you telling you thanks for the work you're doing. Makes you feel real good," he said. "I was stopped at a gas station, and a lady came up to me and wanted to know where in the heck Iowa was. Makes you realize how far we are from home."
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