3 weeks after Hurricane Ida, parts of Louisiana remain dark

NEW ORLEANS – For Tiffany Brown, the drive home from New Orleans begins as usual: she can see the lights on in the city’s central busine...

NEW ORLEANS – For Tiffany Brown, the drive home from New Orleans begins as usual: she can see the lights on in the city’s central business district and people congregating in bars and restaurants. But as she rolls west along Interstate 10, signs of destruction from Hurricane Ida appear. Trees with missing branches fill the swamp on either side of the road. With every kilometer that passes, more and more blue tarpaulins appear on the roofs and more and more utility poles have fallen on the road, some snapped in half.

By the time Ms Brown arrives at her exit in Destrehan 30 minutes later, the lights illuminating the freeway have disappeared, and another night of total darkness has fallen on her suburban housing estate.

For Ms. Brown, who works as an office manager in a pediatric clinic, work life can seem almost normal. But at home, without electricity, it’s anything but. “I continue to hope every day that I will come home and that I will,” she said. “But every day this is not the case.”

Three weeks have passed since Hurricane Ida knocked down electrical wires, poles and transmission towers serving more than a million people in southeast Louisiana. In New Orleans, power was almost fully restored on September 10, and businesses and schools reopened. But outside the city, more than 100,000 customers were without light until September 13. As of Friday evening, there were still around 38,000 customers without power, and many people remained displaced from the damaged homes.

As intensifying storms caused by climate change reveal weak power grids across the United States, severe power outages are becoming an increasingly regular aftershock in the long term.

“It is moving away so quickly from the disaster itself – the hurricane, the wildfire, the floods,” said Julie McNamara, energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “A large part of the consequences of these extreme weather events are due to these long-lasting power outages. “

For many, like Ms Brown, turning the lights back on could still take more than a week: Entergy, the state’s largest utility, estimates electricity will be fully restored to the state by September 29, a full month after Ida made landfall. Linemen are scattered across the coast to replace fallen wires and poles, but in some areas hit by sustained winds of up to 150 miles per hour, electrical systems will need to be completely rebuilt.

The challenges of weeks without electricity weigh on residents. Kelly Walker, who lives in Luling, Louisiana, spent nearly three weeks without power before the lights were finally restored on Friday. Her mother’s tiny three-bedroom home became an overcrowded eight-person home port, where a generator tempered the sweltering heat at a cost of $ 80 per day in gasoline. With no hot water to shower, grocery stores still poorly supplied, her 14-year-old son’s school closed indefinitely, and little to do for entertainment, the family saw tensions rise.

“It looks like overall things are falling into place,” Ms. Walker said. “But it feels like the outskirts, small towns and communities are being left behind.”

Across St. Charles Parish, where Mrs. Walker lives, in Thibodaux 30 miles west and 50 miles south of Big island – an expanse that includes sleeping quarters, fishing villages and small towns of oil and gas workers – the power outages brought a cascade of challenges.

Jobs, schools and daily routines remain on hold across the region. Lift workers thread new power lines along the roads, while drivers wait their turn at dead traffic lights. In some residential streets, power lines hang so low that cars barely slide under them.

The Terrebonne parish school district, where just over a dozen of the 34 schools were supplied with power on Friday, has been closed for weeks. The district “does not even consider” reopening school buildings until they have electricity, said Philip Martin, the school principal. Schools further north with electricity and less damage will temporarily house students from the southern parts of the parish from September 27. be necessary.

Medical facilities are also in difficulty. The emergency care clinic that Alicia Doucet runs in Cut Off, a small fishing town along the bayou southwest of New Orleans, reopened a week after the storm, when staff finally got a generator. But a week later, the gasoline costs to run it added up. Supplies, including medicine and crutches, were slow to arrive as delivery trucks struggled to navigate through the debris to reach the clinic.

“We just pray that everyone in between us can process,” Ms. Doucet said. The local hospital will be closed for months after losing its roof in the storm, according to Archie Chaisson III, the president of the parish of Lafourche, forcing the clinic to send those in need of more acute care to the hospital in Thibodaux , an hour’s drive away.

The persistent blackout has blocked the reconstruction process in communities like Pointe-Aux-Chenes, a small community of houses, many of which are on stilts, across the marsh from Ms. Doucet’s clinic which houses the tribe of Pointe-Au-Chien.

“No water, no electricity, so you can’t do anything,” said Charles Verdin, the tribe’s president. Most residents have not yet returned to the community, where the intense winds have made most of the homes uninhabitable.

And with each passing day, the already immense task of rebuilding becomes more and more difficult, as rain falls through holes in the roofs and mold spreads.

Mr Verdin said it wasn’t until September 13, more than two weeks after the storm, that he first saw workers descend the bayou to begin repairing power lines. He understands the obstacles they face: piles of debris and fallen cables dramatically lengthen the already long journey from community to any population center. Many downed poles were planted in soft, swampy soil, making them difficult to repair.

But he also believes restoring power to his community was low on the utility company’s priority list.

“We don’t like it, but we’re used to it – they’ll take care of where the most people are,” Verdin said.

Entergy spokesperson Jerry Nappi confirmed the company is prioritizing recovering power from as many customers as quickly as possible, with lines serving fewer people restored later.

The immense challenge of repairing over 30,000 poles, 36,000 spans of wire and nearly 6,000 storm-blown transformers has left many wondering whether Entergy should have invested more in strengthening this infrastructure to be able to withstand the high winds. that hit the Gulf Coast. with increasing regularity.

State regulators asked this question in 2019, when the Louisiana Public Utilities Commission launched an investigation into the reliability of the grid. But the process remains open, and regulators have done little to force Entergy to respond to outages, even as long-term power outages become more common.

After Hurricane Laura ravaged the southwestern part of the state last August, causing more than 400,000 outages in Louisiana, it took more than a month for the utility to restore power to all customers , at an estimated cost of $ 1.4 billion. A month later, it took Entergy two weeks to fully restore power after Hurricane Zeta cut power to nearly half a million customers in the state.

For many, restoring electricity after Hurricane Ida is just the beginning.

Last weekend, Anthony Griffith and Brittany Dufrene inspected their home in LaPlace after a demolition crew gutted it, two weeks after Hurricane Ida brought a wave of flood waters from Lake Pontchartrain to proximity in their subdivision.

Their plan “for now” is to rebuild, Ms. Dufrene said, and she expects many of her neighbors to do so as well. But with storms hitting the region more often, the longer-term solution is less clear. “How many times can you do this?” ” she asked.

From the bottom of the driveway, a neighbor shouted that he had obtained electricity. Mr. Griffith flipped a switch on the fuse box and sure enough for the first time in almost two weeks it came on.

Maybe now they could stay home, Mr Griffith suggested, instead of bouncing between parents’ houses more than an hour apart.

Mrs. Dufrène laughed, looking at the mattresses stacked in the garage and the walls whose bottoms had been removed a few feet.

“Where are we going to stay? »Asked Ms. Dufrène. “Where are we going to sleep?

Katy reckdahl contributed reporting from New Orleans.

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Newsrust - US Top News: 3 weeks after Hurricane Ida, parts of Louisiana remain dark
3 weeks after Hurricane Ida, parts of Louisiana remain dark
Newsrust - US Top News
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