Thousand Still Struggle Without Heat As TWU Local 101 Races to Restore Service
November 7, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco
As Barack Obama and Mitt Romney fought for the White House on Election Day, 2012, 900 TWU Local 101 members fought to save the house down the street, and the one up the block.
Some 16,000 homes within National Grid’s regional territory remain without heat and hot water a solid week after Hurricane Sandy tore through the tri-state area with an almost unparalleled ferocity. Despite the utility workers’ tireless efforts, however, TWU Local 101 President Michael Conigliaro said that those struggling against falling temperatures should not expect to have gas service restored anytime soon.
“Staten Island, by the water, is a war zone,” Conigliaro told LaborPress. “Gerritsen Beach is a war zone. Sea Gate is a war zone, Howard Beach…”
Members of TWU Local 101, with support from a number of New England locals, will actually spend the rest of this week shutting off the gas to thousands of storm-ravaged homes as a prerequisite to pumping out flood waters and restoring electric power.
“You can’t have a boiler or water heater without electric power,” Conigliaro said. “The plan right now is first to turn everybody off. We have to physically go into their home and lock each meter. Once that’s done, then we have to wait for Con Ed to put the electric on. And water has to be out of their basements – and then we can go back [and restore gas service.]”
Homeowners will also need to replace destroyed boilers before National Grid allows workers to unlock gas mains.
“We’re not just going to turn the gas on with no boiler,” Conigliaro said. “We’re probably going to have everybody off this week. Next week, the water should be out, and power restored. Then we’ll start turning people back on.”
According to the Local 101 president, the hardest hit areas they’ve encountered have been in Breezy Point, Queens and low-lying areas in Staten Island where firefighters found TWU member Anna Gesso dead inside her home on November 2. The call center representative apparently drowned after rushing flood waters quickly overtook her and prevented her escape.
“We have no idea why she stayed [and did not evacuate], Conigliaro said.
A great number of Local 101 members reside in some of the most horribly storm-impacted areas around the city. But that hasn’t stopped them from ceaselessly working to help others recover, even as they, themselves, have lost everything to the killer storm.
“They’re all heroes out there as far as we’re concerned,” Conigliaro.
With Red Cross reportedly slow to respond, Hurricane Sandy has even turned Local 101 members into first-responders. Many presently working hard in the field to restore service routinely donate their lunches to hurricane victims who lack even the basic necessities.
“Whatever we can bring them, that’s what we’re doing,” Conigliaro said. “There are literally people in the street with nowhere to go. They don’t know what to do and have nowhere to turn.”
Yet another angry storm front brewing only promises to make matters worse.
Conigliaro said that additional resources would help utility workers complete their methodical duties, but warned, “We’re reaching the point right now where there’s nothing we can do.”
“After getting a new boiler you’re ready to go,” the TWU Local 101 chief said. “But every individual home, one home at a time has to be done.”