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More than 1m people in Louisiana were preparing for a third sweltering day without electricity after utilities struggled to reconnect power lines knocked down by Hurricane Ida, with some residents warned that the outages could last for weeks.
Ida made landfall on Sunday with wind speeds of up to 150mph. The storm extensively damaged long-distance power transmission lines, with the local utility Entergy saying that more than 2,000 miles of its high-voltage network was out of service.
All eight transmission lines feeding the city of New Orleans were downed by the storm. One tower on the banks of the Mississippi River that had withstood Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was toppled by Ida.
Much of southern Louisiana lacked the power necessary to run air conditioners and refrigerators even as weather officials issued a heat advisory for daytime hours on Wednesday.
The energy shortage has also hampered hurricane recovery efforts, interrupting water and sewage service and mobile phone reception in some areas. Local hospitals, already stretched thin by a surge in Covid-19 cases, have relied on emergency generators.
Entergy said it was still assessing the extent of the damage. The Biden administration said it had facilitated the use of drones and other equipment to speed the assessment up, but the New Orleans-based utility company warned it could be days before it was even able to estimate when power would be restored, and “customers in the hardest-hit areas should expect extended power outages lasting for weeks”.
As of midday on Tuesday, Entergy said that 865,000 customers in Louisiana and Mississippi remained without power, while 85,000 had power restored. Including all utilities, more than 1m customers in Louisiana still lacked service, according to PowerOutage.US.
Entergy and state officials are coming under increasing pressure over the prospect of lengthy outages. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana governor, said 20,000 line workers had been deployed to assess damage and repair power lines, adding that he had pressed the company’s officials to “make sure that they knew that this is a very high order of priority”.
Officials in St Charles Parish in south-east Louisiana, home to Royal Dutch Shell’s Norco oil refinery, warned residents they could be without power for at least a month. Black smoke could be seen billowing from the refinery’s gas flares, which the company said in a Facebook posting could be expected until power was restored.
“I know I’m not satisfied with 30 days, the Entergy people aren’t satisfied with 30 days, nobody who’s out there needing power is satisfied with that,” Edwards said during a press conference in St John the Baptist Parish, about 30 miles west of New Orleans, on Tuesday.
Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin, said that restoring power to the region was likely to take longer than after Katrina.
“It took about two weeks to get all the transmission back online after Katrina and they didn’t have any towers collapse. This one’s probably going to take quite a bit longer to fully re-energise,” Rhodes said. “I doubt that they have . . . an extra 400-foot tower sitting in the yard somewhere that they can just put up.”
Local and state government officials were opening shelters for people whose homes become uninhabitable.
In St John the Baptist Parish there were “very resilient, hardy people, many of whom have decided not to leave”, Edwards said. “I expect that that’s going to change over the coming days, because they’re going to find out that their homes are not going to be re-powered anytime very soon and they got damaged.”
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