The 16-hour days are over.
The three-day trip home is nearly complete.
Crews from the Nebraska Public Power District arrive back in the state today after two weeks helping restore power in West Virginia and New Jersey.
The 16 NPPD linemen convoying back are among several hundred utility workers, foresters and private contractors from Nebraska and Iowa who contributed to the largest power restoration effort in the nation's history following Hurricane Sandy.
All told, more than 53,000 workers headed to the Northeast to help with the restoration, according to the Edison Electric Institute.
Most workers are on their way home, if not there already. From Nebraska and Iowa, that includes crews from the Lincoln Electric System, Omaha Public Power District, MidAmerican Energy Co. and private contractors such as L.E. Myers.
The Facebook messages of appreciation started appearing before the workers arrived home.
A firefighter from Long Branch, N.J., posted on NPPD's page that he had worked for seven days at his fire station following the storm, only to return to a darkened home. The next day he saw NPPD trucks on his street and had power that night.
“Thank you so much for your hard work in this area of devastation,” firefighter Jay Feiter posted.
Kelley Porter, spokeswoman for the Lincoln Electric System, said utility linemen would descend from a power pole to the applause of neighbors, or to a care package waiting on the ground. LES sent seven workers.
Iowa and Nebraska crews experienced — albeit to a lesser extent — the difficulties of storm-weary residents. LES workers were housed at a hotel that lacked power. NPPD crews slept in tents before upgrading to the interior of semi-tractor trailers. Fuel shortages meant NPPD trucks were limited in their range.
The effort extended beyond utility workers.
Besides the 29 employees that MidAmerican sent to the Northeast, the utility also released from their local commitments more than 200 contract line workers and tree crew members. A similar number for Nebraska was not available, although OPPD released six L.E. Myers workers from the Omaha area.
Most workers who went east did the same type of hand-to-hand combat that is necessary in the Midlands to restore power — clearing downed limbs, erecting power poles, stringing wire and repairing transformers.
The exception was OPPD, which sent a team of specialized workers to New York City, where the electrical system is underground. The downtown Omaha and New York systems share a similarity in that their high power cables are made of lead, requiring special expertise.
Jerry Benedict, who led the six-person OPPD crew, said the New York workers were impressed with the Omahans. The underground work is dangerous because electrical equipment is live and exposed. Some wires carry as much as 13,000 volts. And of course, since it's New York, everything is more crowded — where a vault in Omaha might have one transformer, in New York there are three.
“Everything is hot, you have to be extremely careful what you touch,” he said.
Benedict said he and his crew will bring lessons learned back to Nebraska, many of them involving safety.
“It's been a very good trip,” he said. “We learned a lot that we can bring home and use.”
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