New Orleans — For Tiffany Brown, a drive home from New Orleans begins as usual. She turns on the lights in the city’s central business district and can see people gathering in bars and restaurants. But as she drives west along Interstate 10, there are signs of the destruction of Hurricane Ida. Trees lacking limbs fill the swamps on both sides of the highway. For each mile, more blue tarpaulins appeared on the roof, more utility poles fell on the road, and some broke in half.
By the time Mr Brown arrived at the exit of Desterhan 30 minutes later, the lights illuminating the highway had gone out and a pitch-black night had fallen into her suburban plot.
For Mr. Brown, the secretary general of the pediatric clinic, life at work feels almost normal. But at home there is no electricity, so that’s nothing. “I go home every day and hope it continues,” she said. “But not every day.”
It’s been three weeks since Hurricane Ida knocked down wires, utility poles, and transmission towers that serve more than one million people in southeastern Louisiana. In New Orleans, electricity was almost completely restored by September 10, and businesses and schools were reopened. But outside the city, by September 13, more than 100,000 customers had lost electricity. As of Friday night, about 38,000 customers were still out of power and many continued to evacuate their damaged homes.
With the intensification of storms caused by climate change, severe power outages are becoming an increasingly regular and long-term aftermath as the weaknesses of the power grid throughout the United States become apparent.
Julie McNamara, an energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said: “Many of the consequences of these extreme weather events are due to these long-term power outages.”
For many, like Mr Brown, it can still take a week or more to get the lights back on. Entergy, the state’s largest power company, predicts that the state’s electricity will be fully restored by September 29, a month after Aida’s creation. landing. Linemen are scattered along the coast and replace down wires and poles, but in areas hit by strong winds of 150 mph, the electrical system needs to be completely rebuilt.
A few weeks of powerless challenges are worn by the inhabitants. Kelly Walker, who lives in Luling, Louisiana, had been out of electricity for almost three weeks until the electricity was finally restored on Friday. Her mother’s small three-bedroom home became a crowded home base for eight people. There, a generator used gasoline to relieve the heat at a cost of $ 80 a day. There is no hot water to take a shower, the grocery store is still low in stock, the school of my 14-year-old son is closed indefinitely, there is little to do for entertainment, and the family is getting nervous. saw.
“In the big picture, things seem to be organized,” Walker said. “But it feels like the suburbs, small towns and communities are left behind.”
Power outages occur in vast areas, including commuter towns, fishing villages, and small cities of oil and gas workers, from the Parish of St. Charles, where Walker lives, to Tibodo, more than 30 miles west and 50 miles south. bottom. In a cascade of challenges.
Work, school and daily life remain reserved throughout the region. Cherry picker workers string new power lines along the road while the driver waits in the blind spot of the traffic light. In some residential areas, the power lines hang so low that cars barely rub under them.
The Terrebonne Parish School District, which had more than 12 of the 34 schools in power as of Friday, was closed for several weeks. School director Philip Martin says the district is “not thinking” of reopening the school building until electricity is turned on. From September 27, students from the southern tip of the parish will be temporarily accommodated in the higher-powered, less-damaged school further north. However, when the lights are off, it is even difficult to assess wind damage to school buildings and determine how long the fix will last. Is required.
Medical facilities are also struggling. An emergency medical clinic managed by Alicia Dusset in Cutoff, a small fishing village along Bayou in southwestern New Orleans, reopened a week after the storm hit when staff finally secured a generator. But after a week, the cost of gasoline to do it was totaled. Due to the difficulty of the delivery truck passing through the debris and arriving at the clinic, supplies such as medicine and crutches arrived late.
“We hope that each and every one of us can be treated,” said Dusset. According to Archie Chaisson III, president of Lafourche Parish, a local hospital was closed for months after losing its roof in a storm and forced to send people in need of more acute treatment to a hospital in Tibodo, an hour away. increase.
Permanent power outages cross the swamp from Doucet’s clinic, home of the Pointe-Au-Chien tribe, and communities like Pointe-Aux-Chenes, a community of small homes, often raised on stilts. Stagnated the reconstruction process.
“I can’t do anything because I don’t have water or electricity,” said tribal chairman Charles Bardeen. Most residents have not yet returned to the community. Strong winds made most homes uninhabitable there.
And as the days go by, rain falls through the holes in the roof and mold spreads, making the already huge work of reconstruction more difficult.
Mr Verdin said he first saw workers get off Bayeux to begin repairing power lines until September 13, more than two weeks after the storm. He understands the obstacles they are facing. Debris piles and wire down make the already long drive from the community to the population center much longer. Many of the fallen poles were planted in soft, moist soil, making them difficult to fix.
But he also believes that power restoration to his community was low on the utility company’s list of priorities.
“We don’t like it, but we’re used to it. They take care of the most populous places,” Bardeen said.
Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi has confirmed that the company prioritizes regaining power from its most customers in the fastest possible way and later restores fewer lines.
With over 30,000 poles collapsed by the storm, 36,000 spanned wires, and the big challenge of repairing nearly 6,000 transformers, Entergy is investing more in strengthening this infrastructure to withstand the strong winds that hit the Gulf. I was wondering if it should be done. As regularity increases.
State regulators asked that question in 2019, when the Louisiana Public Utility Commission began investigating grid reliability. However, the procedure remains unresolved, and even with more frequent long-term power outages, regulators rarely force enthusiasts to respond to suspensions.
After Hurricane Laura struck the southwestern part of the state in August last year and caused more than 400,000 power outages in Louisiana, it took more than a month for utilities to restore power to all their customers, with an estimated cost. It was up to $ 1.4 billion. A month later, it took Entergy two weeks to fully regain power after Hurricane Zeta stopped powering nearly 500,000 customers in the state.
For many, regaining power after hurricane Ida is just the beginning.
Last weekend, Anthony Griffith and Brittany Dufren left Laplace’s house after hurricane Aida brought a flood surge from nearby Lake Pontchartrain to their plot after demolitionists destroyed the house. I investigated.
“For now,” their plan is to rebuild, Dufren said, and she expects many of her neighbors to do so as well. But when storms hit the area more often, …