Louisiana Politicians Fume Over Prospect of Long Blackouts
(Bloomberg) -- Two days after Hurricane Ida slammed into the Louisiana coast, tearing down power lines and transmission towers, Governor John Bel Edwards said it’s still not clear when homes and businesses plunged into darkness and heat will have their electricity restored.
At least four people are dead and more than 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi have no power in the storm’s wake. Entergy Corp., the main electric utility in New Orleans, said in a news release Tuesday that it had restored power to 85,000 customers but those in the hardest-hit areas could experience power outages for weeks.
“Nobody is satisfied,” Edwards said at a news conference Tuesday. “I will be unpleasantly surprised if it’s actually 30 days before we start to see power being restored.” He said he spent two hours on the phone with Entergy on Monday night talking about the importance of getting the lights back on quickly.
Some service to New Orleans could be restored either late Wednesday afternoon or evening, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Tuesday. Entergy reported Tuesday afternoon that it was pursuing two options for bringing electricity back to the city. The utility could either restore some high-voltage transmission lines into New Orleans, or it could create an energy “island” that would temporarily cut off the city from the regional grid and rely on two local power plants for electricity.
“It could mean we do see some level of electricity or light in the city come tomorrow,” Cantrell said, during a press briefing in which she announced a nighttime curfew to prevent crime on the city’s darkened streets. “But again, the expectation should not be -- because it’s not a real one -- that the entire city will be lit tomorrow evening.”
Ida struck Louisiana on Sunday, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, arriving on the heels of a United Nations scientific report warning that weather will only grow more extreme as global warming intensifies. Six tropical cyclones have now struck the U.S. this year, floods killed 20 people in Tennessee earlier this month and wildfires have raged near Lake Tahoe in California, as well as in Minnesota, Greece and Turkey.
Edwards warned residents who evacuated not to return and urged caution as people begin to clean up after the hurricane. “Most people are injured and killed because of the response, not the storm itself,” he said, citing the danger of falling off roofs, driving through floodwaters and being exposed to carbon monoxide from generators.
The four confirmed deaths linked to Ida include two people killed in Louisiana and another two in Mississippi in a highway collapse following the storm. A fifth man, a 71-year-old from Louisiana, is missing and presumed dead after being attacked by an alligator while walking in floodwaters, according to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The storm damaged power plants and took down eight high-voltage transmission lines that bring power into New Orleans and the surrounding parishes, knocking a transmission tower that withstood Katrina into the Mississippi River, according to Entergy.
New Orleans has set up stations where people can get food and water, cool off and recharge their phones.
About 20,000 linemen and other workers are currently assessing the electrical system and turning power back on when it’s safe. Electrical workers from across the U.S. have flowed into Louisiana to help repair the grid, a system of mutual aid that’s common after destructive storms.
Checking the electric system for damage is difficult and time-consuming because workers have to walk the entire system “pole to pole” and “house to house,” said Donnie Colston, director of the utility department at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
“If there are four poles down on a specific line, you have to bring four poles with you,” said Colston, who helped repair the system after Katrina. “It’s very difficult, especially when you’re talking about setting those poles when the floodwaters are still up.”
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