Auburn-area crew works to restore power to New York

Thousands still without power from Superstorm Sandy
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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A crew of five Pacific Gas and Electric workers from the Auburn area is working to return power to thousands in Queens, N.Y., two weeks after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the northeast coast.

Although more than 1 million Con Edison customers in New York City and Westchester County have had power restored as of Monday, there are still about 16,300 without electricity in flood-ravaged areas of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, according to the utility.

Blake Baker, 39, is the foreman of his crew and Thursday he said much of the larger-scale projects have been completed, and they continue to work on smaller ones.

“It seems like it’s getting better,” Baker said. “Weather-wise, the wind picked up and it snowed a little bit (last week). It seems like we’re putting more and more power on.”

Back in Roseville, he has a wife and three children, and his two youngest – an 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter – have birthdays this month. He does not know when he will be able to return home, but he said he continually keeps in touch with his family.

“They understand my work,” he said. “I talk to them every day. I talk to them at night before I go to bed. They normally text me in the morning when they get up.”

Baker had to miss Christmas with his family in 2006 when he was working in the Pacific Northwest after it was hit with an ice storm, he said. If that’s the case for Thanksgiving, they’ll celebrate it again when he returns home, he said.

Baker is part of a mobile operations unit that gets dispatched to help in storm recovery efforts.

“We move around a lot more,” he said. “We go where the work is needed.”

And New York needed it.

Recovering from Sandy has been the largest customer restoration effort in Con Edison history, according to a press release from the utility. The storm caused five times as many outages as the next largest in Con Edison history, Hurricane Irene, in 2011, according to the release.

In conjunction with thousands of contractor personnel and mutual aid, including 270 PG&E workers, the company replaced 60 miles of electric cable, Con Edison said in the release.

Con Edison is paying for the recovery effort and is covering all the costs of PG&E’s supplementary contingent, a PG&E spokesperson said.

Baker left California on Oct. 30 and arrived in New York during the early hours the next day.

His crew has three vehicles – a pickup truck and two bigger service trucks – and traffic has been their biggest challenge, he said. Aside from maneuvering around downed trees, it’s difficult for them to navigate the city as a lot of the bridges are too low for the clearance of their larger trucks, Baker said.

He said he personally doesn’t get too wrapped up in the magnitude of the storm damage.

“I approach this just like another normal storm, as if it were in California,” Baker said. “It’s just a little different. We don’t know the areas as well, but that’s why we rely on GPS and everyone watching out for each other.”

He has learned a thing or two about New York along the way.

For one, the fallen oak tress that caused a significant amount of the city’s electrical problems are bigger than any oak trees he’s seen in California, he said.

Secondly, New Yorkers are actually quite nice, he said.

“They’re real appreciative seeing us,” Baker said of the Queens locals. “They’re very polite, and I was very surprised. They always say New Yorkers are rude, or (comment about) how they talk, but they were very polite.”


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews