Gulf Coast Braces For New Storm

Sept. 12, 2008
With customers in some parts of Louisiana still without power from Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Ike is tracking toward the Texas coast and has forced some Gulf Coast residents to evacuate their homes.

With customers in some parts of Louisiana still without power from Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Ike is tracking toward the Texas coast and has forced some Gulf Coast residents to evacuate their homes.

Hurricane Gustav made landfall Sept. 1 near Cocodrie, La., about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans. The path of the hurricane offered New Orleans a reprieve, but the Baton Rouge, La., area suffered severe damage.

The region’s top power company, Entergy Corp., said in its 95-year history only Hurricane Katrina knocked out power for more of its customers than Hurricane Gustav. At the storm’s peak, 850,000 Entergy customers, primarily in Louisiana and Mississippi, had lost electrical service. Entergy reported on its website that restoration was complete in Mississippi and Arkansas but that problems remained in Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s state capital, and other cities. According to a Sept. 9 article in The New York Times, nearly 40 percent of Baton Rouge’s power remains out. Entergy said it will be the last week of September before all electricity in Baton Rouge is restored.

“Fortunately, we suffered minimal damage due to our pre-storm prep,” said Parker Stewart, New Orleans area manager for Crawford Electric Supply Co. (CESCO), a unit of Sonepar. “We boarded windows and doors, moved material in doors and unplugged office machines.”

As a result, CESCO’s one location in New Orleans had relatively little damage.High winds did blow a sign off the building, damage a satellite dish and cause windows to leak, resulting in water damage on the interior walls.

Seventeen of CESCO’s 25 employees at its New Orleans branch evacuated the weekend before the storm to northern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Stewart said all 25 employees have returned to work and that power at their homes had been restored by Sept. 7. He called the employees’ return to work a “real tribute to the dedication of our team.”

Like CESCO, Summit Electric Supply, Albuquerque, N.M., was able to avoid major storm damage because of storm preparation. Four of Summit Electric Supply’s branches were forced to evacuate — New Orleans; Gonzales, outside of Baton Rouge; Broussard; and a branch in Beaumont, Texas. “Out of those, absolutely nothing happened in Beaumont, so that was a non-factor,” said Sheila Hernandez, vice president, marketing, Summit Electric Supply. At presstime, Hernandez said the company’s Broussard office, which is in the Lafayette area, was up on regular power, but the other two locations were still running on generators.

“Within less than 24 hours we accounted for all our people. Nobody is hurt and no one lost their home. Some people have property damage. We did have people who took damage to their homes — trees falling on roofs, roofs blowing off.”

Graybar Electric Co., St. Louis, evacuated three of its four branches in the Graybar Dallas District. The district has branches in Beaumont, Texas; New Orleans (Harahan), La.; Lake Charles, La., and Baton Rouge, La. None of these branches sustained damage from Hurricane Gustav, and all Graybar employees are safe. Of the four locations, Baton Rouge was the only city that wasn’t evacuated.

“It ended up being hit the hardest, even though it’s approximately 75 miles from the coastal area. High winds took down substations and transmission lines,” said Dori Moore, director of operations, Graybar Dallas District.

On Sept. 2, a mandatory evacuation order forced Graybar to close its New Orleans and Lake Charles branches. Graybar’s Beaumont branch was operating with a skeleton crew due to the evacuation. Graybar-Baton Rouge was forced to close because the city was completely without power or phone service. Calls to Graybar-Baton Rouge were routed to Graybar-Houston. Graybar-Gulfport, Miss., also was officially closed Sept. 2 because of the hurricane, but some employees came into work to take care of customers that needed supplies such as portable cable, cord caps, circuit breakers, fuses and generator hook-ups. Graybar’s branch in Jackson, Miss., was not impacted by the hurricane, but Libby Lang, manager of customer service for the Jackson location, said the branch delivered wire to the U.S. Coast Guard, which needed to hook up generators in the New Orleans area.

Graybar’s Beaumont and Lake Charles branches were operating with a full staff on Sept. 3. Although Graybar’s New Orleans branch was still under evacuation orders, 20 Graybar employees with “Level 2” permits were allowed back into the city to staff the branch. Level 2 clearance is granted to businesses that support the power restoration efforts of utilities and electrical contractors. On Sept. 4, the company’s New Orleans and Baton Rouge branches were up and running on small generators.

While power remained out for approximately 80 percent of Baton Rouge on Sept. 8, Graybar-Baton Rouge was able to fully open for business thanks to power from a flat-bed generator rented from a Graybar Lake Charles customer, says Moore. On Sept. 9, she said 50 percent of the power in Baton Rouge had been restored.

Independent rep Jean Paul de la Houssaye, principal of C&D Agency in Covington, La., about 30 miles north of New Orleans, said he and his family are fine, as is his home-based rep agency. “At home, we’re without power,” de la Houssaye said Sept. 4. “We probably will be without power for another two or three days. We’re on a road that looks like it had a little twister. It knocked out the light poles, utility poles and transformers. It’s 1.7 miles from the major highway.”

De la Houssaye said his bigger concern was flooding from two nearby rivers. “We’re between two rivers, so one of the biggest scares we had was the water coming up. The water came up to about seven feet to seven-and-a-half feet in front of my house. We had about three more feet to go. That was the worst. We had to get all the furniture up off the ground floor and put it on the second floor.”

His son, Michael de la Houssaye, who also works at C&D Agency, is also fine. Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home in 2005. His father said Michael evacuated with his three children, wife and two dogs before Hurricane Gustav hit. Michael was traveling back to New Orleans at press time.

De la Houssaye said Baton Rouge, Morgan City and Alexandria “took a pretty good-sized hit” from Hurricane Gustav. “They had some high water and flooding.Some of the cities even in the middle of the state like Shreveport, Bossier City got a lot of water up there.”

As Hurricane Ike traveled toward the Gulf Coast, some distributors were stocking up on storm essentials. Crawford Electric Supply/Sonepar was loading up on portable generators, gas cans, ice, water, flashlights, batteries, ice chests, rain gear, lanterns ground rods, extension cords, wiring devices, service heads and wire and cable, rubber tape, stringlights, as well as a back-up generator for one if its own branches.