Entergy begins mammoth task of restoring power in Louisiana, Mississippi
September 6-12, 2021
By Wesley Brown
Entergy Corp. and utility crews from across the U.S. have begun the difficult and dangerous task of restoring power to a large swath of southern Louisiana after Hurricane Ida came ashore with 155 mile per hour winds off the coast of Louisiana on Sunday in Port Fourchon.
According to the National Weather Service, the Category 4 storm was one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall in Louisiana with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. After moving through Mississippi, the storm has left the region as a tropical storm with dangerous and heavy rainfall.
New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., parent company of Entergy Arkansas, said based on historical restoration times, customers in the direct path of Category 4 hurricane can experience outages up to three weeks. As one of the nation’s largest utility operators, Entergy has subsidiaries in New Orleans, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Arkansas.
“Hurricane Ida has made landfall as a destructive and extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, bringing with it life-threatening storm surge and catastrophic wind damage,” Entergy said on its website. “Those in the hardest-hit areas could experience power outages for weeks. The National Hurricane Center warns of an extremely life-threatening storm surge inundation of 9 feet or greater above ground level between Burns Point, Louisiana and Ocean Springs, Mississippi.”
In the aftermath of the storm, Entergy said Ida hit Louisiana especially hard. The worst damage seen so far is in the south and southeast part of the state and in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans metro area where there is significant flooding reported in the southeast part of the state’s largest city.
In Mississippi, the hardest-hit areas include the Brookhaven/McComb and Natchez/Gloster areas. Entergy said damage assessment continues using drones, helicopters and scouts on the ground, and should be nearly complete on Tuesday.
“Ida’s historic intensity has brought a tremendous amount of damage across Louisiana and Mississippi,” Entergy said on its corporate website on Tuesday. “Because of the extent of damage and rebuilding required, we expect recovery to be difficult and challenging, and customers in the hardest-hit areas should expect extended power outages lasting for weeks.”
Entergy said more than 15,200 workers of an anticipated storm team of more than 20,000 are assessing the vast damage and destruction across New Orleans, southeast Louisiana and Mississippi, and restoring service where it is safe to do so.
As a result of Hurricane Ida’s catastrophic intensity, major transmission lines that deliver power to several Louisiana parishes are currently out of service. Damage to eight high-voltage lines took out power for New Orleans and Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, as well as parts of St. Charles and Terrebonne parishes. One transmission tower that withstood Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago, fell Sunday night. The tower’s conductor landed in the Mississippi River.
“The transmission system plays a critical role in delivering power from the power plant to the lines serving customers’ neighborhoods,” said Entergy. “The damage from Hurricane Ida has eliminated much of the redundancy built into the transmission system, which makes it difficult to move power around the region to customers.”
That specific transmission system is the backbone of the electric grid and helps Entergy move energy from the power plant to the lines serving customers’ neighborhoods. Without these lines in service, the New Orleans utility giant said it is difficult to move power across the system to customers in affected areas.
“If the grid and the flow of power were compared to our highway system, transmission lines would be the interstates, substations would be the off-ramps, and distribution lines would be the streets and roads that lead to homes and businesses,” said Entergy. “While these transmission structures are being repaired, engineering and operations groups are working closely, along with our reliability coordinator MISO, to ensure the safe and stable operation of the electric grid.”
Entergy said restoration crews will continue working in parallel to restore substations and the distribution system that feed homes and businesses. The company is also aggressively exploring other opportunities to flow power into New Orleans by enabling generators located in the area to begin producing electricity without the need for a transmission source to provide start-up power.
Along with standard storm preparations, Entergy said its employees continue navigating the COVID-19 pandemic by taking additional steps. These include traveling separately if necessary, adjusting crew staging locations and greater use of drones. Additionally, crews are continuing to practice social distancing and ask customers to do the same.
“Due to the additional measures crews must take, restoration may take longer, especially where there are widespread outages. For their safety and yours, please stay away from work zones,” Entergy warned.
Entergy also has taken severe weather precautions for its fleet of nuclear plants due to Hurricane Ida. On Sunday at 6:12 a.m. as the hurricane came ashore, Entergy declared “a notification of unusual event,” which is the lowest of four emergency classifications designated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to ensure the first steps for future response.
Under this classification, Entergy’s Waterford 3 (W3) nuclear plant in St. Charles Parish was disconnected from the grid as storm winds escalated on Sunday, while River Bend nuclear station in West Feliciana Parish north of Baton Rouge reduced power at the dispatcher’s request.
The W3 plant remains in a safe, secure and stable condition, and the sequestered team members are safe. The River Bend situation is fluid and power levels are expected to change in coordination with grid operators, company officials said.
Help is on the way
As Entergy crews span out across Louisiana and Mississippi, help in the form of additional utility crews, emergency assistance, and direct aid to residents is pouring in from around the country. On Sunday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson authorized both civilian and National Guard resources from Arkansas to support the emergency recovery efforts.
“Neighbors helping neighbors,” tweeted Hutchinson.
As of Wednesday, emergency workers from utility operators such as Little Rock-based Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, St. Louis-based Ameren Corp., FirstEnergy Corp in Akron, Ohio, Atlanta-based Georgia Power had sent hundreds of restoration workers, line crews, engineers, support teams and contract teams to Mississippi and Louisiana to help restore power and clean up downed power lines and trees.
“Our hearts go out to those who have been affected by this devastating hurricane. We will help these communities recover from this storm’s stunning damage as soon as possible,” said Warner Baxter, chairman, president and CEO of Ameren Corporation. “Ameren customers in Illinois and Missouri have benefited many times from mutual assistance following severe storms and know firsthand how this type of support can make a real difference in recovery efforts.”
The Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, which includes 17 electric distribution units that serve more than 600,000 customers in rural Arkansas, said Tuesday it was dispatching 188 line workers and utility vehicles, along with construction and right-of-way equipment to Louisiana. Those Arkansas work crews will assist the South Louisiana Electric Cooperative of Houma, La., as they work to restore power outages in the boot heel area of the hurricane-hit state that reports 94% of its 19,000 cooperative members are currently without power.
On the other hand, charitable groups such as The Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, and American Human Rescue are mobilizing teams to provide direct relief to thousands of Louisiana and Mississippi residents and families in the hardest-hit areas. For example, Samaritan’s Purse said it is partnering with local churches to mobilize volunteers to help homeowners’ clear debris, mud out flooded homes, remove downed trees, and tarp damaged roofs.
In addition, several Fortune 500 companies such as Walmart, Apple and Lowe’s had committed millions of dollars in relief funds for the Hurricane Ida clean-up. According to Walmart, which has committed $5 million to Ida relief efforts, 49 of its stores and Sam’s Club remained closed as of Tuesday. Also, insurance firms such as Farmers Insurance, Geico, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield also have emergency response teams on the ground to work to assist impacted customers who need to file a claim.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is working with Louisiana officials and coordinating the federal response that includes at least eight federal agencies. On Aug. 29, President Joe Biden approved a Major Disaster Declaration in addition to an emergency declaration for Louisiana on Aug. 17. Biden also approved Mississippi’s emergency declaration on Aug. 28 to include all 84 counties and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians
The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) said it continues working with federal, state, local, tribal and non-governmental partners to support the needs of areas affected by Ida. FEMA officials said individuals who experienced damage and power loss should use extreme caution during the recovery phase as areas inland will continue to experience dangerous weather conditions.
“FEMA’s priorities are to support lifesaving and life-sustaining action. Put your health and safety first and be careful in areas with storm damage or flooding,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. “If you are evacuated, return only when officials say it is safe to do so.”
As of Wednesday, FEMA said more than 1,300 FEMA had been deployed to support Ida response and recovery efforts, including seven Incident Management Assistance Teams deployed to support rescue and restoration operations. Five FEMA teams are in Louisiana, and two in Mississippi, officials said.
The U.S. Department of Defense also said Wednesday that the National Guard has activated more than 5,200 personnel in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama in response to the national disaster. Most of those National Guard troops — 5,009 — are in Louisiana, according to Army Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a Pentagon press officer. There are currently 150 in Mississippi, 100 in Texas and 40 in Alabama.
The National Guard is bringing a variety of assets, including high-water vehicles, rotary lift capacity and other transportation support, Taylor said. The U.S Army Corps of Engineers is also operational in New Orleans and assessing the storm’s impact.
PHOTO CAPTIONS: (All photos provided by Entergy.)
Entergy Corp., parent company of Entergy Arkansas, said it continues to make substantial restoration progress following Hurricane Ida’s destructive path through Southeast Louisiana and Mississippi. After three days of restoration work following Hurricane Ida’s landfall, Entergy has restored more than 107,000 of the more than 1 million customers who lost power.