High Point power crew members reflect on Sandy trip to New York
Dale Johnson stood earlier this month at the base of a nondescript utility pole in the nighttime darkness, 575 miles from his High Point home and on the verge of sensing one of the most vivid experiences in his life.
Johnson, a veteran employee of the High Point Electric Utilities Department, traveled with eight coworkers to Rockville Centre, N.Y., a town on the southern tip of Long Island that was swept over by Superstorm Sandy more than three weeks ago. He was part of a crew restoring power to a neighborhood one evening when the men completed reconnecting lines and circuits, surging electricity to homes that had been without power for days on end.
Johnson was overcome with a feeling of accomplishment as people he had never met before rushed out of their homes or yards to thank him and his fellow crew members for their hours of painstaking work.
“That’s what I remember the most,” Johnson said in an interview with The High Point Enterprise after the crews returned from their journey. “When we finished, people were cheering, some were crying with joy. Some of them were hugging us.”
Johnson and two other Electric Utilities Department employees who went to Rockville Centre and another community, Freeport, N.Y., said what stands out most to them is the gratitude and warmth they received from residents of the towns.
Nine men from the Electric Utilities Department, who arrived on Long Island the evening of Oct. 31 shortly after Sandy struck, spent two weeks restoring electricity. Midway through their stay, a powerful nor’easter pounded the Northeast, adding to the number of people who lost power. The second storm extended the work of High Point power crews helping restore electricity in neighborhoods.
“People were so emotional when the lights came on,” Johnson said.
Electric Utilities Department employee Darrell Damron said that High Point crews have extensive experience going to other parts of the country to restore power after storms.
“I’ve been a lot of places, but no one was more appreciative than the folks in New York,” Damron said.
Another employee, Adam Baldwin, said that one night while the High Point workers were in their electric crew uniforms, local people came up to them at a restaurant and insisted on paying for their dinner out of appreciation.
A typical day for the High Point crews meant starting at 6:30 a.m. and working until up to 10 p.m. Johnson and Damron said they were lucky because they could get some sleep, take a shower and eat a meal at a hotel during the entire stay. But Baldwin, who spent much of his time in Freeport, spent his first five or six days working long shifts, then sleeping on a cot in a municipal office until a hotel room became available.
Each High Point crew had a local person with them to negotiate neighborhoods and pinpoint downed poles and lines. And throughout their stay the men witnessed the wake of the fury of Sandy – power boats lifted off their anchors and dumped into residential yards, mammoth trees felled like they were match sticks.
Damron said that the Electric Utilities Department never has an issue finding volunteers to spend long periods away from their families to help communities across the state and country get the lights back on. The electrical workers realize they have a critical role to play because of their training and skill.
“You’ve done something not everyone can do,” Damron said.