The Louisiana Public Service Commission reported about 39 percent of the state was without electricity Wednesday night.
A total of 830,280 of the state’s 2.1 million utility customers were without power as of 6:10 p.m. Wednesday, the last official count of the evening, according to Colby Cook, of the PSC staff.
Those numbers are expected to grow Thursday as Tropical Storm Isaac moves into central Louisiana, he said.
“It looks a lot worse than anticipated,” PSC Commissioner Jimmy Field, of Baton Rouge, said of the damage.
Field added as unexpected as the extent of the destruction, his gut feeling was the storm did not cause as extensive damage as Hurricane Gustav did in 2008, when many Louisiana homes were without power for weeks.
Entergy has called in 10,000 workers to restore power, and other utilities have brought in thousands more from about 20 other states to help, said PSC Chairman Foster Campbell, of Bossier Parish.
He cautioned it may take some time to get the electricity up and running again.
“While significant progress is expected this week, we do know that some customers will be faced with extended outages due to damage to critical infrastructure and localized flooding,” said Bill Mohl, president and chief executive officer of Entergy Gulf States Louisiana and Entergy Louisiana which sells electricity to more than 1 million customers in the state.
“Some of our crews are already out and beginning to evaluate the damage and will be prepared to restore power as promptly as possible as soon as conditions improve to the point that our crews can work safely,” Mohl said Wednesday night.
Entergy reported 52 transmission lines were down and 22 substations were offline late Wednesday.
Most of the infrastructure damage was in the south and southeastern portions of the state. Transmission lines transport large amounts of electricity from generating plants to substations, which distributes power to individual customers.
About 622,000 Entergy customers were without power Wednesday night, including 130,000 of the 160,000 Entergy New Orleans customers.
Entergy Gulf States, which services the Baton Rouge area, reported 116,000 of the 380,000 customers were without electricity.
St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin said at least 95 percent of the parish was without power and Entergy told parish officials it would not be unreasonable to expect power to be out for several days, maybe a week.
“They’re telling us they have a lot of damage out there, and they’re pleading for patience. They really can’t start doing anything until the wind stops, until it gets down to 35-mph winds,” he said.
Looking for a silver lining in a bad situation, the DEMCO manager of member and public relations, David Latona, said when compared with Gustav at about the same point in the storm, Isaac appears to have caused fewer downed trees on roads and fewer toppled transmission towers.
“But who knows, maybe the second half of the storm will change it,” Latona said.
DEMCO reported 55,809 – or 55 percent – of its 100,277 members were without power. In East Baton Rouge Parish, the cooperative said 49 percent, or 15,815 the utility’s 32,156 members, are without power. DEMCO services neighborhoods in Zachary, Baker, Central, Monticello and parts of Shenandoah.
DEMCO has about 150 workers doing preliminary assessments and another 550 will join them Thursday.
“We’re expecting to get to (repairing downed) lines sometime tomorrow, maybe by late afternoon,” Latona said.
Fifty percent, or 99,664, of the 199,172 utility customers in East Baton Rouge Parish were without electricity, according to reports to the PSC.
In Ascension Parish, 28,820 of the 48,695 customers, or 59 percent, were without power and in Livingston Parish, 65 percent, or 38,679 of the parish’s 59,888 utility customers were without electricity, the PSC said.
Seventy-one percent, or 4,189, of West Feliciana Parish’s 5,904 utility customers were without power, while 61 percent, or 6,241, of 10,209 customers had no electricity in East Feliciana Parish, according to the PSC. In Pointe Coupee Parish, 8,627 customers, or 75 percent, of the 11,552 total were without power.
Lafayette Parish had only 7 percent outages – 3,313 of 50,055 customers – at the latest tally, according to the PSC.
As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, CLECO reported 72,468 of its customers were without power. CLECO reported outages of 5,104 in St. Mary Parish, 1,042 in Acadia Parish, 1,253 in Evangeline Parish, 5,901 in Iberia Parish, 582 in St. Landry Parish and six in St. Martin Parish.
“The outage numbers will continue to go up until after the eye passes,” said Cook, of the PSC staff, which means central Louisiana will get hit Thursday.
The PSC is projecting it won’t be until Thursday morning, at least, before sustained winds drop below 30 to 35 mph, the point at which utility crews can safely work on the lines, Cook said.
David Mitchell and
Rebekah Allen of
The Advocate contributed to this report.
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