WASHINGTON - In a rare airlift, the Defense Department is flying 17 aircraft from California to New York loaded with power generation equipment and crews to help restore electricity to the millions of homes and businesses devastated by Superstorm Sandy.
The Pentagon says the 630 tons of equipment is being provided by Southern California power companies, including Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
The equipment includes 10 double bucket trucks, nearly 20 pick-up trucks, and a number of other trucks and equipment, as well as a mobile command center. It was to arrive Thursday at the Air National Guard base at Stewart International Airport north of New York City.
The massive transport operation was conceived Tuesday afternoon during a teleconference call among utility executives, President Barack Obama, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
According to the White House, West Coast utility executives said they had equipment ready to travel overland to storm-stricken areas. Obama, who had entered the call unannounced from the White House Situation Room, said the utilities should inform Fugate of their highway routes to ensure the quickest passage and asked how the transfer of equipment could be accelerated.
Fugate then indicated he would consult with the Pentagon about the possibility of using military transport planes. At that point Obama, instructed Fugate to make that happen immediately.
The White House provided details of the call Thursday showcasing the role of the president and the federal government in the disaster response.
The Air Force said it was deploying 17 cargo planes to the airlift mission, including C-5s and C-17s. Aircraft and crews from 12 active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve bases were assembling at March Air Reserve Base in California to pick up the equipment. White House officials said such a mission is rare but not unprecedented; military planes have delivered equipment in the past to islands that have been hard hit by weather.
Utilities closer to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut already have been sending crews and equipment to troubled areas.
Pentagon officials also said three warships were moving up the East Coast and would be ready to provide assistance if needed.
Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.