Yahoo! Exclusive: Toronto Hydro employees worked long days in Long Island after Hurricane Sandy

Jordan Chittley
Daily Brew

Yahoo! Canada News talks to 20-year veteran Adam Rees about what his days were like after superstorm Sandy

Two months after superstorm Sandy hit the U.S. East Coast, we still see images of houses half knocked down, trees uprooted, cars on their sides and furniture piled high on the curbs.

But the good news for most people who still have a home standing is they have power. Once the storm blew through and the weather started to calm down, the first item many mayors and governors started reporting is the number of people without power. Getting it restored to homes is a priority and something that couldn't have been done as quickly without utility workers from all over the continent including about 65 from Toronto Hydro.

"I never even hesitate, especially when they say stuff like we are going to go help out another utility...let's go, let's help out," said Adam Rees, a 20-year veteran of Toronto Hydro, to Yahoo! Canada News.

He and others from Toronto left a week after Sandy hit. They first had to make sure all the homes in Toronto had power restored. They each drove one piece of equipment down to Long Island.

"(When we got there) it was somewhat chaotic. There are 170 linemen on the island normally and I was informed when I got there there were 5,000."

Once Rees and his colleagues attended a briefing to learn about the idiosyncrasies and potential dangers, they headed out to a damaged street and got to work.

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"It's just a big mess. It looks like a huge demolition project. It looks like someone went through and started demolishing things, but they are arbitrarily demolishing a bit here and a bit there and there is debris and sand everywhere. Mother nature is pretty powerful," he said. "There were boats in people's driveways."

Rees and his colleagues would usually wake up at about 5:30 a.m., figure out where they were going, pick up the necessary equipment, head to the damaged street and work until they lost sunlight. They did this every day for 11 days. The first few nights they slept on the front seats of their trucks, but were then given cots at a middle school, which was acting as a Red Cross relief centre.

"They (residents) are cleaning up their houses, they are pulling their furniture out and putting it on the front lawn, some of them already had contractors in tearing the walls out to get rid of the moisture," said Rees. Many of them were wondering what was happening, but then became very happy to learn they would have power by the end of the day.

"It's nothing but gratitude. We had people offering us money, food, everything," he said. In many case, the hydro workers had to re-dig holes, erect new poles and run the lines. They were basically redoing the hydro infrastructure.

[ Related Video: One month after Sandy ]

There were some Rees couldn't help, like one man he remembers from Babylon, which is on the southern shore in the middle of Long Island. Rees could get power to the entire street, but this one man's house was too damaged. He needed contractors to fix the foundation and the electrical system in the home was compromised. "I really felt bad for him because he was looking shocked. You just don't know what do to next," Rees said.

Luckily, people like that were in the minority. Rees remembers leaving an area of New Hyde Park, which is in central Long Island, after a successful day and seeing posters in people's windows reading "Toronto Hydro Rocks."

"It was amazing to see these signs in windows as you are leaving the job," he said. "I'm very pleased with Toronto Hydro for allowing us to go down and do something. They organized it pretty quickly and I'm pretty proud of them for that."

This isn't the first time Rees has helped out in a dire situation. He went to help restore power during the 1998 ice storm in Quebec and said that was much worse because temperatures hit -25 degrees Celsius at night.

Members of Toronto Hydro who went down to help with relief efforts were honoured by Toronto City Council at the end of November.

(Top Photo from Toronto Hydro's Facebook page. Bottom photo courtesy of Adam Rees.)