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Kimberly Rocha - Courtesy photo

Crew helps empower victims

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
A tree limb fell on a Denton Municipal Electric line truck after 9 inches of snow fell overnight Nov. 8 on Long Island, N.Y. Crews spent two weeks helping make repairs after Hurricane Sandy.Rowdy Patterson - Denton Municipal Electric
A tree limb fell on a Denton Municipal Electric line truck after 9 inches of snow fell overnight Nov. 8 on Long Island, N.Y. Crews spent two weeks helping make repairs after Hurricane Sandy.
Rowdy Patterson - Denton Municipal Electric

DME team helps N.Y. residents overcome hardships after Sandy

After Hurricane Sandy, Long Island, N.Y., resident Kimberly Rocha and her family had gone without electricity for nine days.

She looked out her front window on Nov. 7 and saw the frigid night ahead. In the past week, she had grilled all the meat in her freezer and had thrown a lot of other food away. Her brother, a fisherman, had loaned his five-day coolers so the family could keep milk cold.

Her son’s school was still closed because of the lack of power.

The family was walking everywhere they could, trying to save the half-tank of gas they had in the car for an emergency. The house got cold, and some days it was colder inside the house than outside. She had expected trouble after the hurricane, but the parade of days without power had become surreal, she said.

Calls to the power company went unanswered, except one where she corrected the clerk who thought the electricity was on at her house. She never saw a local company repair truck, only trucks from out of town. She was becoming disillusioned.

Now, a nor’easter was coming.

“The snow had started falling,” Rocha said. “And then they were out there.”

A Denton Municipal Electric crew had pulled up to the utility pole and transformer in front of her house. As she watched them hustle through the repairs, she thought they were ill-dressed for the weather.

She ran out to offer them some extra hand-warmers from her husband’s stash. A little while later, the electricity came on and she ran outside again.

“I need to hug you,” she shouted to the man in the bucket.

“I’ll be right down,” he shouted back.

DME linemen said they get that a lot. Certified journeymen linemen, safety personnel and supervisors — 19 Denton employees in all — went to New York on Nov. 2 to help the Long Island Power Authority restore power to about 1 million of its customers.

One day, two big boxes of doughnuts and hot coffee were waiting for the crew on the back of one of the trucks, said Craig Stastny, a foreman for the overhead maintenance crew.

Another day, a resident came up to their table at the neighborhood pizzeria and visited with them over dinner for nearly half an hour. When the DME crew was ready to leave, they learned the man had already paid their tab, said Rowdy Patterson, a construction line superintendent.

The crew slept in their trucks the first night in Long Island. Hotels were full. But by the second night, volunteer firefighters put them up at the New Hyde Park Fire Station, where they would bunk for the rest of their time working, primarily in New Hyde Park and Garden City.

Though it only had one shower, the volunteer fire station was spacious. Given the circumstances, Patterson said, the people of Long Island were pleasant and appreciative. The crew ate breakfast at a neighborhood diner, which also prepared lunch for them and other linemen working in the area.

The first few days, the diner made them cold sandwiches, but as power was restored, the diner sent hamburgers and other hot food. Sometimes, customers fed them, said Brad Watts, an operations line superintendent.

After the nor’easter, some people lost power again, although Rocha said her power held through that storm.

The snow slowed the DME crew down some, especially after members had to return to back alleys to make repairs where snow had drifted higher.

“It makes you tired to walk in it,” Watts said.

The majority of the line work was done by mid-November and all that remained was individual outages, so the crew was back in Denton by Friday afternoon.

Hurricane Sandy was a big storm, but the damage wasn’t anything like the crew had seen after Hurricane Katrina, and to a lesser degree, hurricanes Ivan and Ike, Watts said. They worked for five weeks after Katrina, helping communities rebuild.

After Hurricane Ike, a crew went to Daytona Beach and essentially worked its way back, helping communities in Alabama and South Texas rebuild.

Although, Watts said, “this was the first time we’ve gone out on a hurricane and ended up in an ice storm.”

The city cannot spare a crew for very long, said Brian Daskam, DME spokesman. The city gets reimbursed through whatever mutual aid agreement is in place at the time — this time with the Long Island Power Authority.

But DME hopes other communities will remember should Denton ever be in need.

“You lend a hand, because you never know when you’re going to need aid,” Watts said.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is .