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The “Art” of compassion

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By Art Canizales, Jr.

When I first got to Woodmere, New York, there were a lot of trees down and a lot of water damage. I saw a lot of personal property on the sidewalks. At first, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Then, when we got to Rockaway, one of the hardest-hit areas, it was worse than I expected. The damage was just unbelievable.   

People would come up to us and thank us and start telling us their stories. That was the hardest part. The damage was widespread on the island, and I will never forget the one gentlemen who told us that we were the first people he had seen in the seven days since the storm – the first people to help start restoring power. He came down and shook everybody’s hand and told everybody “thank you.” 

We met this other man whose restaurant burned down; his residence had been on the third floor. He was out with a shovel cleaning stuff out and yet he came over and offered us water and food. You can’t help but let those things change you.

Whether we were digging a hole, setting the pole, putting the primary up or just running services, we knew that we were bringing somebody that much closer to getting power and getting some kind of normalcy back in their life. Then, when the nor’easter hit and the snow came, I thought, “How are they going to live like this with no electricity and no heat in the house?” But they managed. We really do take for granted the things we have.

We heard stories about what people did for each other. One guy I talked to told me the flood waters were six feet deep; he and a lady’s son rescued her from the house on a surfboard. Another neighbor went to a house where there was a newborn; he held the baby above the water and took the whole family to his house. 

One thing that really got me was the number of tourists taking pictures. I just thought to myself, “Why don’t you put down the camera and pick up a damn shovel?” I just couldn’t believe people were taking pictures and just walking by. If somebody needs something, give them a hand, even if it’s just a sandwich. It may not be much, but it means something.  

When I volunteered, I knew I’d miss my cousin Amy’s wedding. I felt bad about it, but I could see that my small loss was nothing compared to the losses the storm victims were experiencing. If anything like this happened to any of my family, I hope that others would respond the same way.

I decided to go because it’s the way I was raised – always help out when you can. My dad is the type of guy who would hold benefits when someone got hurt in order to help them pay their bills. My mom has always been that way, too. When someone needs help, you help them.

I work out of SRP’s Tempe maintenance yard and everybody there wanted to go. I work with a bunch of guys who are tough but, when you are faced with something like this, you see a different side. There are a lot of caring people with whom I’m lucky to work.

This experience made me realize how a natural disaster can affect you and possibly take a family member away. When I left, I didn’t tell a lot of my cousins that I was going. When they found out, I got a lot of calls. They wanted to check on me. All of my cousins called two or three times to find out when I was coming home. It gives you a different perspective on things.

Days after Hurricane Sandy pounded the East Coast and left 1.1 million people without power and heat, a a harsh and frigid nor’easter storm arrived. Utility workers like Art Canizales with the Salt River Project (SRP) headed into the disaster zone. The 47-year-old journeyman lineman from Globe-Miami spent 16 hours a day for two weeks restoring electricity – and a bit of hope – to thousands on Long Island whose lives were turned upside down.

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