EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 13, 2012

Valley comes to aid of storm-ravaged NY, NJ

By Bill Kirk bkirk@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Area business, utility and public safety agencies are flocking to storm-battered New York and New Jersey this week to help restore not just TV, Internet, and heating service, but law and order as well.

Verizon has sent 52 technicians to the area, including eight from the Methuen garage.

The Mass. State Police sent a detachment of 25 officers, including several from the Andover barracks, to New Jersey in response to a request from that state for help in dealing with the fallout of Hurricane Sandy.

And at least one local business, Merrimack Valley Corporation and Climate Design Systems of Methuen, sent a two-person team to Long Island to help restore damaged or destroyed heating and air-conditioning systems.

“A specific request has been made ... for law enforcement officers, including state police, in helping keep peace and order in the hardest hit areas of New Jersey,” said David Procopio, head of the media relations unit of the Mass. State Police.

“Troopers are reporting whole communities have been decimated, houses removed from their foundations, roads wiped out, cars completely covered in sand and area inhabitants have been displaced with little hope of getting back into their homes anytime soon,” he said. “The area is also rife with various environmental hazards. Sink holes are a constant danger with raw sewerage and debris strewn everywhere.

“There’s also the issue of people,” he added. “Residents have been actively trying to get back to their homes rendered unsafe from the storm to retrieve their belongings. Attempts have been made by vehicle, foot and by boat. Looting has been a problem for New Jersey authorities and sadly, even contractors hired to help with storm damage, have been caught cutting and stealing copper piping. Part of the primary mission for law enforcement is to help keep the area clear until it can be rendered safe and keep others from exploiting the situation and looting their neighbor’s homes.”

Most of the Verizon workers are going into areas where power has been restored, but they have seen, and heard about, some of the devastation wrought by the hurricane.

“We are in the Coney Island area,” said Paul Scovotti, 40, of 5 Mears Farm Road, Haverhill, who usually works out of the Methuen garage near the Loop. “It’s one of the hardest hit areas. The water level was up 10 feet here. There’s debris on the street - people are trying to pull things out of their house that were ruined, and there’s stuff piled up on the street.”

Scovotti, who is working on getting phone and Internet service back up for thousands of residential and commercial customers, said customers are “thankful we are there getting them back in service.”

He is one of a number of technicians in the New York/New Jersey area who will be deployed in the region until Dec. 21. He said he expects to be home for Thanksgiving, but then will head back to get to work.

He said he’ll miss his family, including his wife and two daughters, ages 18 and 14, but that they understand why he has to be away.

“They’re sad I have to come down here but proud we’ve stepped up and come down here to help these people who need help,” he said.

One of his co-workers, Ed Phaneuf, 46, of Tewksbury, agreed.

He said his wife will be busy driving his three kids around to basketball games, but they apppreciate what he’s doing.

“My family is kind of used to it,” he said. “They are behind me. They think it’s cool that dad’s going to help people who need help. I want to go down, my fellow Americans are in pain right now, and I am in a position to offer help. Plus, it’s extra money so it will be a nice holiday season for the family.”

Phaneuf said his role has been to restore service to residential customers. He said he’s heard a number of horror stories.

Even Verizon’s Brooklyn garage he’s working out of had 6 feet of water in it, which destroyed trucks and equipment.

He said the wife of one of the people he’s working with lost a cousin when his house was flooded.

Another co-worker had to be rescued from the second floor of his house when water went from three inches in the back yard to waist-deep in the front yard in a matter of minutes.

“He was in his car and the water was up over the door,” Phaneuf said. “He climbed out the rear window, waded into his house, and went up to the second floor with his wife.”

He said they looked down and saw water coming up the stairs. They had to be rescued from a second-story window by a boat.

He said he’s happy to help.

“At Verizon, in a time of crisis, we don’t walk away from it, we walk toward it,” he said.

Meanwhile, two employees of Climate Design Systems, 15 Aegean Drive, Unit 3, Methuen, also volunteered to help out.

Another heating and air-conditioning owned by Climate Design, Matz Right-Way of Hampton Bays, Long Island, was so slammed with work they needed help, said Luanne Little, residential sales coordinator for the Methuen company.

“We sent two men down, they left Sunday, and they’ll be there for a week,” she said. John Batal and Michael Matteo, both seasoned boiler mechanics and both from Methuen, agreed to go and help out.

Phil Rush, general manager of Matz Right-Way, said he put them right to work.

“I have so much work going on now, they have to keep working,” Rush said. “You tell somebody they won’t get their heat turned on until December or January and you lose customers. I brought them down here just to get customers back on line.”

His community is right on the water, with many homes directly on the beach.

“They are replacing duct work that was underwater and boilers that were underwater,” he said. “I have customers right on the beach, with units on the side of the house that were ripped away.”

In some cases, Batal and Matteo are replacing entire heating and air-conditioning systems for peoples’ homes.

“We’re very proud of our guys,” Little said. “They are being taken away from their home for a week, going down there to help out in Long Island. They were asked and didn’t even think twice about it. It’s just something they felt they should do to help out these people, especially with no heat. As a co-worker, I’m very proud they are willing to do this.”