Canadian Power Workers Lending a Hand on Long Island

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: For many residents of Long Island, New York, the biggest concern right now remains being without power. Tens of thousands of customers have been without electricity since Sandy hit the region almost two weeks ago now. Some got their power back only to lose it again after this week's Noreaster. Utility crews from all around the nation are there to help, and there are some Canadian crews too. The CBC's Laura Lynch has been on Long Island to check on those crews from north of the border. Laura, how unusual or usual is it for Canadian crews to come into the US to help like this?

Laura Lynch: Well, it's not unprecedented in and of itself. In fact there are mutual assistance agreements that extend across the border, so if a company or a province or a town gets into trouble, they just put out the call for someone to come across. And in fact, I don't know if you recall this, in 1998 there was a massive ice storm that mainly hit Montreal, and crews came up from New York to help out then, and apparently some crews even came up from Florida, although I'm not sure how familiar they were in working in conditions of snow and ice. But this time around it is unusual in the sheer numbers of people who they've had to call in to come down, and that's, the obvious reason why, is because there are so many people left without power.

Schachter: Are the Canadian crews from a particular place, are they volunteers, how does that work?

Lynch: Well, the call goes out, come and help us, and then people in the communities, mostly in eastern Canada, look at what their own resources need. So in this case, they came from Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, but they scan the whole entire area. The guys get in their trucks and they start driving. And this time they had to make sure they came down with full tanks of gas, because they know there's a problem here with gas too, as you just heard.

Schachter: And what's been the response of New York residents to the Canadian crews?

Lynch: These residents were on the street that hadn't had power for ten days, and then the Canadian trucks came rolling down the street from a town called Burlington, Ontario. There was one gentleman there shoveling snow off the sidewalk, his name is Kim Cragnolin, and it didn't take him long to see the maple leaf and realize that these workers were Canadian, and he was pretty happy about it.

Craig Cragnolin: It's been a siege for these people, you know. To think that we got to get you Canucks down here to bail us out. I think it's like a miracle of social organization, and we're very thankful.

Lynch: And not surprising that they're thankful, given the situation that they've been living through. On this street a giant tree had been uprooted by Hurricane Sandy. It came crashing down on a house and brought all the power lines down with it, so the workers were facing a pretty big task.

Schachter: The Canadians are coming down from a place that's cold, gets a lot of snow, wind and rain, that sort of thing, so they must be pretty used to this sort of thing.

Lynch: Well, that is true to an extent, but the other Americans who they were working with, because they combine with American supervisors, sort of picked out the Canadians as the stars of the show. There was a gentleman from Virginia named Dexter Trump who was working with this Canadian crew, and he told me that the Canadians stood out, especially after the nor�easter came on top of the hurricane.

Dexter Trump: They had us working with other folks and we couldn't get anything done. They gave us these Canadian boys, worked from morning till last night. They want to keep going, get everybody's lights on, so they kept going.

Lynch: You have to understand, when he was talking about going the night before, that night I was out in it, it was nasty. The winds were blowing so strong, the sleet was coming down, it was bone-chilling cold. I met Brad Cumming who was in charge of this particular group, and he talked about the fact that it was important for them to keep going on the night of the nor'easter, in the cold and in the dark, because of one mother who came up to them and told them she would really like it if they could get the power back on because she had a sick child, a very sick child, and she was very concerned about him spending another night without heat.

Brad Cumming: Guys were cold, guys were soaked. They couldn't feel their fingers, they couldn't feel their toes. But the important part was, for us, the pride factor was we want that power on, we want that kid to be warm, and we want that kid to be safe.

Lynch: And Aaron, when they finally did get the power back on, it was about 9 or 10 at night, they could hear applause rolling up and down the street from everybody who was just waiting for it to come back on. That was applause for them.

Schachter: Well, that's nice, that's one success story. I imagine they'll be there for a while yet, though.

Lynch: They're in it for as long as they are needed, and then they'll turn around and head back up to Canada and wait for the storms to hit there.

Schachter: The CBC's Laura Lynch. Thanks for joining us.

Lynch: You're welcome.