- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Mike Sullivan knows inconvenience.

Thousands of people in the District, Maryland and Virginia are struggling to get by without power. But they aren’t all living in hotel rooms.

Or eating meals served in a box.

Or sleeping just five hours a night.

Mr. Sullivan is one of an estimated 1,000 people who traveled here to help local utility companies repair severed power lines and restore electricity to homes and businesses.

“I would never have guessed there would be this much damage this far from the impact point [of the storm],” said Mr. Sullivan, a 61-year old foreman for Pike Electric Co., an electricity-services company based in Mount Airy, N.C.

The damage that concerns him immediately includes a telephone pole that snapped and is lying on the ground near Lemon Elementary School in Falls Church.

Mr. Sullivan and his crew of six men plugged away all day yesterday to repair the damage and get electricity flowing again to Dominion Virginia Electric Co. customers.

Without crews like Mr. Sullivan’s, residents in Virginia, Maryland and the District likely would remain in the dark for weeks to come.

“The work these crews provide is invaluable. Some of them spent two days on the road to get here, but that’s how it works. We all know we can call on each other for help,” said Robert Dobkin, spokesman for the District’s electric utility, Potomac Electric Power Co.

Local utilities are getting help from electric companies from as far away as Quebec. Workers also came from Florida Power and Light, Oklahoma Gas and Electric, Alabama Power, Tampa Electric Co. and South Carolina Gas and Electric. Out-of-town crews are compensated by the electric company they came to assist. They earn time-and-a-half pay for hours worked over 40 hours.

Mr. Sullivan came with his crew from Georgia.

They have worked no fewer than 15 hours a day since Friday. Their brutal days start when they rise at 4:30 a.m. at a Best Western Inn off of Interstate 395 in Fairfax County. Other crews are staying at hotels in Leesburg and as far away as Warrenton, Va.

Mr. Sullivan’s crew is led each morning to the day’s work site by a “bird dog,” a Dominion Virginia employee who guides them around the area.

Their days end well after dark.

“We usually don’t get back until 11 [p.m.]. By that time, you’re ready for bed,” said Chris Harbin, a cable splicer for Pike Electric who lives in Hartwell, Ga.

In the land of monuments and free museums, there is no time for these guys to get a glimpse of the nation’s capital.

“I guess ‘fun’ is getting back to the hotel and taking a shower. There isn’t any recreation. We just don’t have time for it. We could do a heap of sightseeing here, but I doubt we’ll get to,” said Mr. Sullivan, who lives in Barnesville, Ga.

They are used to hitting the road in an emergency. They went to Arkansas last year when an ice storm downed power lines.

“Sometimes, you’re at home and there are blue skies. Then the phone rings and they say ‘saddle up and head to Birmingham [Alabama] because there was a tornado,’” said Roy Taff, a Pike Electric lineman from Cartersville, Ga.

Mr. Taff predicted the crew would be on the road for a month, but it’s not clear how long they will be asked to help local utility companies restore power. Utilities predict consumers in the District, Maryland and Virginia all could have power back by the end of the week.

But once that’s done, the out-of-town crews may have to assist electric companies in other areas hammered by Hurricane Isabel.

“I’m ready to be home,” Mr. Harbin said.

His wife is pregnant and has her first sonogram scheduled Oct. 7.

“I want to be there for that,” he said.

If it’s a girl, the name Isabel isn’t among the options.

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