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Sandy Creates Huge Demand For Plumbers, Electricians

Sandy Creates Huge Demand For Plumbers, Electricians

 November 12, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco

Licensed plumbers and electricians are being urged to help some of the most devastated areas in NYC recover from Hurricane Sandy, as thousands remain without heat, power and hot water more than a week after the monster storm crashed into the tri-state area.

In Brooklyn, the tiny community of Gerritsen Beach was among the hardest hit communities.

"The people of Gerritsen Beach need the help of our City and I am asking anyone who has time and would be willing to help their fellow New Yorkers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, to come forward and assist at this time," State Senator Marty Golden said.

John Murphy, Business Manager, for Plumbers Local 1 (UA), told LaborPress that his members are eager to help out.

"We have been inundated with members who are looking to volunteer in any way, shape or form," Murphy said. "We sent a blast text message out needing 40 plumbers immediately, and we probably got 300 phone calls."

Communicating that message has not been as easy as it once might have been – like many other buildings in hard-hit Howard Beach, Queens, Local 1's union office at 158-29 Cross Bay Boulevard is still without power and landline phone service.

"The union office was completely washed out," Murphy said. "So, we needed to get our fund offices operational because members – especially the ones that lost everything -need benefits. So, we have an emergency generator in there now that we have been basically working around the clock to keep powered up to make sure the members have access to their benefits during this time."

Last week, the union's political action campaign volunteers were redirected and tasked with trying to locate people in the most need, and figure out the best ways of getting vital supplies to their shattered communities.

Since then, the Bloomberg administration has kicked off a new program called NYC Rapid Repairs aimed at sending new teams of inspectors and contractors to places like Gerritsen Beach to begin making necessary repairs.

“In the neighborhoods hardest hit by Sandy, homeowners need help fixing their homes – and they need it now," the mayor said. “We’ve come up with an innovative and unprecedented way to bring government resources to bear on this recovery effort. Every homeowner should know that their City government is committed to helping them rebuild.”

Murphy recently took part in a conference call with [Local 3 IBEW Business Manager] Chris Erikson, Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway, Building Commissioner Robert DiMandri and representatives from LIPA, FEMA, and DEP to try, as he said, "to put together an action plan for these teams to go out and start to access the damage on individual homes in order to power up the grids."

As it stands now, authorities say that there is no way to determine just how much damage has taken place in those devastated homes.

In Far Rockaway, Queens, where hungry fires as well as surging seawaters tore through scores of homes, firefighters found the water pressure too low to effectively snuff out the life-altering blazes.

"Right now teams have been deployed at Floyd Bennett Field, into the Rockaways and into Staten Island," Murphy said. "And I believe, at this point, that FEMA is going to expand that program to continue to do more repairs rather than just assessment."

Others are pitching in as well. The grassroots community group known as New York Community for Change, planned on dispatching volunteers to knock on every door in the Rockaways to make sure that residents there get the help they need before it's too late.

In the first week after Sandy made landfall, NYC distributed more than 1.8 million meals, nearly 454,000 bottles of water and about 127,000 blankets. But the need remains profound.

Over in Gerritsen Beach, State Senator Golden assured residents that, “A process has been set up so that homeowners can have their homes inspected and electrical and gas service restored, so that we can turn the lights on and the heat on."

But the process that plumbers and electricians need to go through in order to accomplish that task isn't as easy as having someone flick a switch or twist a valve.

"They need to be able to identify whether a house had any damage to their gas line or any damage to their water lines before they can actually activate these mains," Murphy said. "People were saying that we need plumbers to put on the heat, but there's no gas. The gas was off in many cases because in some of the houses that were washed away, gas lines were ripped out. So gas mains had to be closed off. First, they need to isolate the mains and the branches that are going to these houses that were hit with so much damage."

The destruction that Sandy has wrought is so complete, that both plumbers and electricians find it hard to liken it to anything else.

"The irony here, is that you can be in an area where people have lost everything they've ever know, then go half-a-mile away and you have people who are completely unaffected, that never lost power or lights," Murphy said.

Despite the destruction and ongoing threat to human life, union members remain steadfast and determined that the job of reconstruction will be completed.

"Because of the way we are – whether or not it's because we're New Yorkers – there's no doubt that we're going to get up and keep fighting every single day," Murphy said. "We will come back. I think the most important emotion that I've seen is from people who say, 'What can I do to help?' People are just frustrated that they can't do more."

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