Suffolk workers respond to Gulf CoastPublished 10:36pm Thursday, August 30, 2012
This week has been one big déjà vu for Jeff Malaby.
On Tuesday, the Dominion Virginia Power employee packed for a two-week trip and headed south to support recovery from Hurricane Isaac, which has spent the better part of the week pummeling the Gulf Coast. It was exactly seven years after the deadly Hurricane Katrina, for which Malaby also traveled to provide help.
He was among a crew of about 20 Dominion workers from the Suffolk area who joined roughly 300 other Dominion employees to provide hurricane relief. The storm already has knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.
The crews will be dispatched wherever they’re needed in the area, said Malaby, a construction manager based in Suffolk. He left with a contingent of about 55 from Hampton Roads who were headed to an initial home base of Baton Rouge, La.
“Most of us that do this work don’t turn down the opportunity to go,” he said. “It gives you a sense of purpose. You get a lot of satisfaction out of it right then and there — you get people’s lights on.”
The crews were asked to pack for two weeks, but the trip could be shorter or longer, he said. They will stay until the work is done.
Malaby has been doing this kind of work for 32 years, so he has been all over the eastern half of the United States, from Texas to New York, helping to turn the lights back on after hurricanes, ice storms and other disasters.
He’s been volunteering for these types of trips for so long that he’s starting to recognize folks from other parts of the country, he said.
Malaby and about 5,000 others from throughout the country will help repair and replace transformers, power poles, power lines and anything else on the power distribution system. The location may be different, but the work doesn’t change, he said.
“All the wires look the same, no matter where you go,” he said.
The main risks for the power distribution system during a hurricane are wind, which knocks trees over, and rain, which soaks the ground and makes it easier for the trees to fall.
“In a hurricane event, that’s our biggest fear,” he said. “The amount of rain and the amount of wind.”
Malaby said his wife is used to him being away, and he has talked to younger guys in his crew to help them learn to get used to it. Even when it’s hard to leave family, he said, the work builds good karma for when Virginia is struck by natural disaster and other regions come to our aid.
“What comes around goes around,” he said.
Bonita Harris, a spokeswoman for Dominion, said the company carefully evaluates how many workers to send out and still make sure there are enough here.
“Our forecasters keep a close eye on things so we can make sure we have enough people in place,” she said. “We took a few from different regions to make sure there was no region that was significantly impacted.”