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Local utility worker helps Hurricane Sandy victims

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Working in an unknown land

With the threat of another storm bearing down on them, Lane Sether and his colleagues continued to the best of their ability to restore power for the victims of Hurricane Sandy last week. Sether is a Lake Park utility worker and was called to action a week and a half ago to offer his help in New York City.

"Superstorm" Sandy left millions of residents without power for weeks. Sether made the 23-hour drive to New York City on Saturday to repair some of the downed power lines. He returned to northwest Iowa on Tuesday morning.

His trip began with a simple text message. Sether was asked by one of his friends from Aurelia if he wanted to go help with the Sandy efforts.

The final decision to go was made the night of Friday, Nov. 2 and they left in the large Lake Park Utilities truck the next morning.

"It was the opportunity to go to different places and see how much people relied on power," Sether said. "Before I came here (to Lake Park), I had two and a half years of contract experience. I did a lot of storm jobs."

Experience with downed power lines and power outages is what drew him to the mission -- he knew what to do and knew people needed help. When Sether approached Lake Park City Administrator George McGuire about the trip, he was greeted with encouraging words.

"It just seems like small communities do whatever they can to help out," McGuire said about Sether. "I think it shows that, even though we have one lineman (utility worker), we have the confidence to send that man out on a job like this. We are obviously very proud of Lane for going out there and doing it."

Once the northwest Iowa team arrived in the Big Apple, they were paired with eight other utility workers -- four from Minnesota and four from Canada.

On average, Sether said they worked 16 hours per day, only allowing time for sleep in between.

Many East Coast residents are still waiting to see power restored. But for a portion of Long Island -- where Sether worked -- a large number of residents regained heat and electricity. He said many homes had been without power for nearly two weeks.

The service area assigned to Sether was spared from the heaviest blows of Superstorm Sandy. Damage was mostly limited to fallen trees and power lines. The houses in Miller Place were still in good shape.

Utility workers become so accustomed to their service area that power line work almost becomes second nature. The unfamiliar surrounding of New York City's crowded streets became a challenge for Sether. Once he arrived on site, Sether said the utility work was fairly routine.

"Most of the time, cars just got out of the way because of how big the truck was," Sether said. "Most of the stuff I had done was in rural areas. I had never been to a big place like that."

The rain and snowstorm that hit on Wednesday, Nov. 7, also caused a bit of a challenge. Sether and his crew had to go back to some spots and do repair work again.

"It was great to see how excited they were when we restore the power and we pull away," he said. "It was definitely an experience; it's a different world."

After spending a week on the coast, Sether was ready to get back to northwest Iowa. He made it home to Lake Park in the wee hours of Tuesday morning with a few stories and a new appreciation for the small-town atmosphere.

"It's almost like a week missed for me," he said. "Everybody else's lives continued but I kind of just stopped and went out there. It was just an opportunity to do another storm job."

Sether said he has heard nothing but good things from the community of Lake Park.

"When you see all the devastation and all the lines down, to the public it looks like a lot of work, but to us it's our job," he said.

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