Damaged furniture and other remnants of Hurricane Harvey sit on a street in northwest Houston after being pulled from homes by Local 716.  

Houston Local 66 Business Manager Gregory Lucero met with an apprentice recently whose home had been damaged by flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey and suggested he apply for help from the Texas AFL-CIO’s Worker Relief Find.

Houston Local 716 Business Manager and International Executive Council member John Easton Jr., center, helps fellow 716 members remove sheetrock and insulation from a home damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

“He told me he was fine,” said Lucero, whose local union includes linemen employed by CenterPoint Energy. “There’s a lot going on now and a lot of people don’t have insurance. Those are the people we should be taking care of.”

Lucero and other IBEW leaders in Texas say they’re seeing that unselfishness many times over in the aftermath of Harvey, which devastated the Texas coast in late August, dumping as much 50 inches of rain in some places during a four-day period.

Some IBEW members are forgoing benefits so brothers and sisters hit harder by the destruction can take advantage of them. Still others literally went door-to-door helping families trying to save their homes.

“It’s just kind of reassured me that we have great people in the IBEW that care about each other,” said Houston Local 716 Business Manager John Easton Jr., a member of the International Executive Council.

Easton and other Local 716 members have spent time helping neighbors try to save homes that have been damaged by flooding.  {The Media Department has compiled a video showcasing Local 716’s work.}

 “I was really touched and just holding back tears when they came out,” said Local 716 member and Agreement Approval Department Director Denise Johnson, whose home in northwest Houston had standing water inside it for 10 days.

Johnson said the structure of the house survived the flooding, but the interior was nearly a total loss and faces a complete rebuild.

“They rallied around us and helped us pull everything out of the house,” she said of fellow Local 716 members. “They helped us tear out the walls. It put smiles on everyone's faces, even though it was a sad, dire situation.

A stuffed animal and a recliner were among the damaged items removed from a Houston home by Local 716 members.

“It helped me put things in perspective while I was there. I went out and helped as many other people as I could.”

On the utility side, members stepped up to the challenge of getting power restored for millions of customers in Texas and Louisiana, which also incurred Harvey’s wrath.

CenterPoint officials said about 97 percent of the electrical power in its coverage area was restored within one week after Harvey blew through, Lucero said. The lone exceptions were structures and substations that were destroyed and had to be replaced.

Things had improved enough that CenterPoint was able to send 36 4-man crews to Florida to help with recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma struck there on Sept. 10, Lucero said.

“I know our people are some of the best in the world,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that. The amount of work they got done in a short period of time was just unbelievable and you never heard a complaint out of them.”

“I know some had their homes damaged and they had a wife and kids at home ripping up sheetrock, but they just said, ‘That’s OK, I’ve got to get the lights turned on for everybody.’”

Further up the coast, Beaumont, Texas, Local 2286 Business Manager Clinton Trahan said his members have received high marks from local officials in getting power restored.

Local 2286 has jurisdiction in both Texas and Louisiana and represents linemen at Entergy. All electrical power in the area was restored with a few days after the storm, Trahan said. Even in areas where substations were destroyed, workers have installed temporary substations to provide electrical service until new ones are built.

Trahan said things have gone smoothly enough that, like in Houston, Entergy was able to send linemen to Florida to help with Hurricane Irma recovery.

Lucero said about 145 of Local 66’s 4,1000 members have reported having their home damaged and that number may rise. Only a few have reported their homes being a complete loss.

Some of the work of the IBEW and others in Houston was complicated by the decision to release water from two flood-control dams in Houston. Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it was to lessen the danger of uncontrollable water in the city, but it came with a cost for some citizens, including Johnson.

“The tough part was you couldn’t go into some areas for two weeks because the water was so high,” Easton said. “By that time, complete houses were ruined and destroyed. It was a challenging deal. But we wanted to get in and help out our members and really help out anyone.”

In Beaumont, things went well enough that Trahan didn’t have to interrupt contract negotiations with other companies to concentrate on repair efforts.

“Our people got things up and running,” he said. “I haven’t had any phone calls. That’s a good thing.”

“When you’ve got the best-trained, best-prepared workers in the world, you’re expected to lead in a time of crisis,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “I’m so pleased, but not surprised, that our members in Texas are doing just that. We look forward to being part of the recovery process in the weeks and months ahead.”

They’ll also continue to find time to help each other.

“Brother helping brother,” said Local 716 organizer Roger Foster, who has helped with the recovery efforts. “What can you say? It’s a beautiful thing.”