Willmar, Minn., linemen reflect on efforts to restore semblance of normalcy to lives of Long Island residents (photo gallery)
Willmar Municipal Utilities lineman Casey Jenny and crew chief Dick Thynes are glad they worked with more than 7,000 linemen from across the United States and Canada to help restore East Coast power knocked out by Hurricane Sandy Oct. 29. Thynes and Jenny volunteered for the relief effort. They drove a bucket truck on Nov. 2 to Rochester where they gathered with 21 linemen and 11 trucks from nine other Minnesota utilities for the two-day drive to Long Island, New York City.
The linemen assisted the Long Island Power Authority from Nov. 4 through 14. Much of their system is overhead lines, unlike Willmar where much of the residential system is buried. Many of the trees next to power lines had not been trimmed and many of the power poles were rotten. When a wind such as that from Sandy comes through, the urban forest takes down the poles, wires, transformers and anything else connected to the poles.
Thynes said the damage from Sandy was different from the destruction caused by the tornado that struck St. Peter on Oct. 29, 1998. Thynes assisted in that effort as well.
“There was nothing left. You just started over,’’ he said. “At Long Island, the poles were broken and we had to replace them, but basically the wires were there. That was usable yet. You were just dealing with trees, not house debris and that type of thing.’’
Thynes said linemen had to cut their way into problem areas.
Additionally, crews were hampered by many backyard fences.
“If we needed a truck, we just chain-sawed our way into the back yard,’’ he said. “If that wasn’t possible, everything was done by hand: raising poles, digging holes, climbing. It wasn’t that often we were able to get trucks in these backyards. It was basically all hand work.’’
Jenny said trees, debris and damaged contents from flooded homes were piled along the streets.
“It was a mess,’’ he said.
Pat’s Graphics of Willmar, on short notice, provided a sign for the rear of their truck. It read, “Proud to Assist Sandy Relief Efforts, Willmar, Minnesota.’’ They said motorists showed their appreciation with high-fives and thumbs up.
“That sign introduced us to a lot of people throughout the trip,’’ said Thynes. Long Islanders, who were upset with their utility’s slow restoration efforts, identified the Minnesotans as one of the “friendlies.’’
“They were very grateful when they saw us coming because there was no bucket truck seen in 13 days,’’ said Jenny. “So when they saw us coming, they were very grateful and then when we got the power back on, they were praising us.’’
Thynes said some people had generators and they would offer coffee. Some people had grills set up and offered food.
“They’d offer us anything they had. People offered showers, anything they could do to help. They were very gracious,’’ he said.
Linemen worked 18-hour days. Jenny slept in the truck once and Thynes slept in the truck twice. Eventually, they and the other Minnesotans opened a recreation center, set up cots and sleeping bags from an armory and fired up the water heater for showers.
They didn’t have power one night after a nor’easter blew through the region.
The Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association and Rochester Utilities each provided a supervisor. Thynes said it was amazing how 23 people got along so well.
“We knew what we had. We knew what we didn’t have. We just got along with what we had. We had no trouble with food. We’d eat in restaurants and a couple of guys that were assigned to us from (the Long Island Power Authority) had a pocketful of money and whatever we needed, they got us,’’ said Thynes.
Thynes and Jenny said they would volunteer again.
“We knew these people were hurtin’ and they’re still hurtin’. Their gratitude would have been payment enough because they were very, very grateful, very gracious people. To have a chance to do something different, to be aligned with other linemen, it was just a fun experience,’’ said Thynes.
“It was fun working together and getting the power back on,’’ added Jenny.