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N.Y. Electrician Shortage Hampers Sandy Recovery


It's been a month since Sandy made landfall in the northeast. For millions in that big storm's path, life is returning to normal - not for tens of thousands of people in New York City who still, still don't have electricity or heat. Many of them are waiting for an electrician to come to repair or certify wiring that was damaged by all the flooding. But as NPR's Joel Rose reports, there aren't enough electricians to go around.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: If you drive through the Rockaways in Queens, it seems like there's an electrician in a cargo van parked on every block.

SERGE NAZAIRE: There's a lot of people that's still out there that doesn't have electricity in their basement. They don't have their borders(ph) on.

ROSE: Serge Nazaire is eating lunch behind the wheel of his van between jobs. Nazaire left his house at 7 a.m. and says he won't get home until after 11 p.m. tonight. He says it's been like this every day since the storm hit.

NAZAIRE: I could easily say, oh, my wife misses me at home and it's 10 o'clock at night and I'm going home. I don't care you don't have heat. But that's not what I do. They tell me, oh, we need heat tonight, especially now that it's going to start to get cold.

ROSE: Thousands of New Yorkers can't get their heat back because their power is still out. That's only adding to the demand for electricians. Salt water flooded into thousands of basements across Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, meaning that many of those basements need new wiring and new panel boxes before the local utility can turn the power back on safely. And all that work needs to be done or certified by electricians licensed by New York City.

LESLIE MAHONEY: This is a nightmare to get any electrician, even for houses that were not under the water. Some people are paying $500, $1,000.

ROSE: Leslie Mahoney owns a building near the beach in the Rockaways. She got her regular electrician to restore power to her third floor. But Mahoney's cousin in Staten Island hasn't been so lucky.

MAHONEY: The house took no water. She still has to find an electrician to look at this panel. And the hunt for an electrician is unbelievable.

JONATHAN GASKA: People are suffering. They just can't get electricians.

ROSE: Jonathan Gaska is the district manager for Community Board 14 in Queens, which includes the Rockaways. Gaska says he's gotten complaints from constituents who've been told it could be two to three weeks before an electrician can get to their job.

GASKA: Their house is in good shape. All they need is electric work done. And it'll be Christmas, and they may or may not have electric back.

ROSE: After the storm, New York City launched a program called Rapid Repairs to connect people in need with licensed contractors. Gaska wants the city to go a step further by allowing electricians licensed in neighboring counties to work in New York City.

GASKA: The city's absolutely correct to not let, you know, some shoemaker come in and say he's an electrician and do it. The issue is there are experienced electricians in other counties that could do this work, clearly. And it would make it twice as fast, if not three times as fast, to get people back.

ROSE: But city hall hasn't budged. It insists that city-licensed electricians have to do the work or certify it in order to ensure that it's done safely and up to code. Back in the Rockaways, Serge Nazaire says it might speed things up if electricians from neighboring Nassau County could work in New York City. But he says that wouldn't be fair.

NAZAIRE: Because we can't go into Nassau and work over there, and they got problems, too. Oceanside and all these places, you know, I mean, it's in disarray, and we can't go over there and work. So what sense does it make for them to come over here and work?

ROSE: Besides, Nazaire says the wait for an electrician might be overstated. Nazaire says his company can be there in a couple of days, not weeks.

NAZAIRE: Triple T Electric, call us. There you go.

ROSE: Joe Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
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