A huge chunk of the nation’s electrical wholesaling industry along the Eastern Seaboard is battling to recover from the catastrophic damage left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy that left more than 8 million people without power and billions of dollars in property damage.
On Wednesday morning, several electrical distributors with locations in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania contacted by EM were open and busy selling generators, circuit protection equipment, cable, connectors and other products that are typically in high demand during the restoration efforts following a natural disaster.
Bill Goodwin, company president, said as of Wednesday morning two of Griffith Electric Supply’s branches in central New Jersey didn’t have power, but that the Trenton headquarters location has been operational all week and sold 50 generators on Monday.
“All in all, it could have been worse,” he said in an email to EM. “We were open each day, although we only stayed Monday until we got all of our generators picked up. We literally received 50 generators in Monday morning, and they were out of here by noon. We took ‘pre-orders’ on Friday after we knew how many we had access to on Monday. I was very proud of our employees that stayed. They realized they had a responsibility to our customers to help in any way that we could.
“The Trenton area seems to have been spared and there is not really any water damage in this area to speak of. Most of the damage was done by the wind, which blew down trees, which in turn took down wires. We lost a 20-foot x 20-foot portion of the roof on our empty ‘flatiron’ building. We had over half of our employees get in each day. We are at about 95% today (Wednesday).
“One of the major issues we have had to deal with is getting twist-lock plugs, which are needed for the generators. Some of the manufacturers have had shipping problems due to the storm, and then UPS did not deliver either Monday or Tuesday. So although we had many on order from last week, we have received very few. Also, our trucks could not get out for deliveries on either Monday or Tuesday.
“In addition to generators and twist locks, we have sold many flashlights and batteries. SO cord was also sold with the twist locks. We had no deliveries on Monday and Tuesday, but I have seen a few trucks today.”
With a location on West 24th Street in lower Manhattan, G&G Electric is right in the middle of power outage in the Big Apple. Here’s a report from Larry Heimrath, the company’s CEO, on his company’s situation: “Our power is not likely to be restored until Saturday AM. I and my employees have been able to get to G&G, however with a lack of power there is little we can do. Once power is restored we have to deal with the issue of transportation of people and materials. As the subways are out, traffic is heavy.
“Additionally, until power is restored in lower Manhattan congestion is facilitated by the lack of traffic lights. I live near the Brooklyn Bridge and have always bicycled to work, so I am somewhat immune to traffic problems, however the lack of traffic lights greatly increases danger to cyclists.
“Upon restoration of power on Saturday, we will open business as normal on Monday. We are in the process of arranging car pools and will consider using G&G for housing employees in rotating shifts. Many employees and family members in Brooklyn, Long Island, Staten Island, and New Jersey have no power. At this juncture we are adjusting to the reality of storm damage and its consequences. We are New Yorkers! This stuff happens to others, not to us. Mother Nature has made an adjustment to that hubris.”
With branches in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Delaware, and Brooklyn, N.Y., Colonial Electric Supply covers much of the area that caught the worst of the storm. Steve Bellwoar, the company’s president, said damage was “minimal” near the Colonial headquarters in suburban Philadelphia, but that some of its other locations are in areas with widespread power outages. He said 80% of his employees working at headquarters were able to make into work Wednesday, but estimates only 50% of the company’s employees at the New Jersey and New York branches could get in.
“In New York City it’s a mess, although our location up there is fully operational today,” he said. “We have four locations in South Jersey where there are still widespread outages, including our southern-most branch in Cape May, N.J. Around Pennsylvania, plenty of power outages but not as bad. Most Pa. employees are in at work today.”
He said they have been selling transformers, aerial cable, fuses and “typical things that get blown out.” “We are probably going to sell a lot of load centers for flooded basements at some point. The shore community is not populated this time of the year so they have some time to rebuild and get back to normal.”
Bellwoar says it’s a bit early to assess issues with vendors’ deliveries. “Luckily, not too many of them are in South Jersey or New York City,” he said. “I bet the North Jersey guys will have trouble.”
Because the storm hit such a densely populated area, the scale of damage and electrical restoration necessary may turn out to be unlike anything these companies have seen before. In hard-hit New York and New Jersey, the two largest electric utilities, Consolidated Edison and Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G), had a combined total of more than 2,000 workers from their own crews and out-of state working around the clock to restore power. A Con Ed press release said, “The storm knocked down more than 100,000 primary electrical wires in overhead areas. There are also thousands of secondary wires down.
“In areas served by underground electrical equipment damaged by the largest storm surge in New York City history, the equipment must be cleaned of seawater, dried, inspected and tested before it can be safely placed back in service. Con Edison has secured assistance from 1,400 external contractors and mutual aid workers from utilities as far west as California.”
Public Service Electric & Gas’ (PSE&G) press statement said, “PSE&G has assembled a ‘virtual army’ of over 1,550 technicians — 600 PSE&G workers and 950 workers from across the country — plus an additional 600 contractors to cut and remove trees.”
Shortly after the storm hit, Caterpillar, Peoria, Ill., issued a statement outlining its plans to supply generators through its dealership network that said H.O. Penn, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a five-location Cat dealer with locations in southern New York, Long Island and Connecticut, has already provided approximately 100MW of portable generator sets to customers in the greater New York City area.
“Additional portable generator sets are staged in H.O. Penn yards and ready for mobilization as the priorities for use are determined and locations are identified by local authorities,” the release said. “Other Cat dealers across the eastern United States and Canada, including Milton Cat (13 locations), Foley Inc. (four locations) and Ransome (nine locations), are mobilizing and have mobilized hundreds of generators since last week in preparation and response to the storm and are ready to deploy as the hardest-hit areas are identified.