Hurricane Ida caused more damage to Louisiana’s distribution system than Hurricanes Katrina, Delta and Zeta combined, Entergy said on Sunday.
According to the company, after making landfall as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 mph, Ida "devastated" Louisiana’s power grid, damaging more than 30,000 utility poles, close to 35,000 spans of wire and 5,600 transformers. The historic storm knocked out power to more than 900,000 Entergy customers across southeast Louisiana, the company says.
Here's a graphic from the company illustrating the damage for several storms:
“We’re seeing twice as much damage as what we had with Laura,” said Joe Book, senior manager of distribution engineering for Entergy in Louisiana. “We’ve never seen anything this large. Even with Katrina, the damage was extended to multiple states. With Ida, nearly all of the damage is here in Louisiana.”
Even without the electric system being completely assessed, Ida’s damage to distribution utility poles is nearly double that of Laura, which devastated southwest Louisiana just one year ago. Compared to Hurricane Katrina, Ida has seen more than 5,000 spans of wire (the length of wire from one utility pole to another) damaged.
“Ida had the devastating impact like Laura in a specific region, plus it impacted three neighboring regions including the two largest metropolitan areas in Louisiana,” said Chip Arnold, Louisiana operations and safety senior manager. “So, the infrastructure damage totals are larger, and in addition to that, the breadth of our service territory that was impacted was much greater.”
Company officials say the biggest challenge Entergy crews face is replacing more than 24,000 utility poles which support the power lines that deliver electricity from substations to homes and businesses. Replacing poles can be difficult, especially considering the geographical challenges presented by the impacted region, they say. Distribution poles can be found in and around marshes, swamps, rivers, heavily wooded areas and a variety of hard-to-reach locations.
Entergy officials say they came prepared to meet these challenges, using vehicles and equipment like helicopters and drones to locate damaged infrastructure, air boats and marsh buggies to access waterways and rear-ally machines to maneuver tight spaces in residential areas.
In some cases, lineworkers are forced to climb utility poles without the assistance of heavy machinery at all, as factors like muddy terrain and limited space only allow for trained employees to mount poles with special boots, safety ropes and the assistance of crew members, they say.
"While our workforce is trained to assess each situation, operate the proper machinery and execute work that safely and effectively replaces damaged electric equipment, the unique impact of Ida initiated a call for outside help. Nearly 27,000 restoration workers from 41 states have come to aid Entergy’s efforts to restore power," company officials say.
After less than a week since Ida’s historic impact on the state, nearly 350,000 customers are back online.
“The widespread damage and impact inflicted by Hurricane Ida was felt by so many across Louisiana,” said Phillip May, CEO of Entergy Louisiana. “We are overcoming new challenges each day, and our storm team will march forward until we’ve brought the lights back to all of the communities we serve.”