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Louisiana Electrical Businesses Face Long Recovery from Unexpected Floods

Aug. 26, 2016
Electrical distributors and reps in Louisiana tell us that people in the area are still doing initial cleanup and assessing the damage. Over the next few weeks the rebuilding should begin and distributors are making sure they have plenty of inventory in stock or on order to supply the effort.

It was clear soon after the rain began to fall that this wasn’t just a normal storm.

“It was one of those weird events no one saw coming,” said Leland Sonnier, service center leader for Summit Electric Supply’s branch in Broussard, La., near Lafayette. “About an hour into it, you saw the water piling up about three inches an hour, and you knew this wasn’t a traditional type of rain. This was something totally different.”

The storm blew in Aug. 11, a series of rain bands that stalled over one area for about 36 hours, dumping over 30 inches of rain in some parts of Louisiana, most heavily northeast of Baton Rouge. The rivers began to crest their banks on Friday Aug. 12 and continued to rise for two more days.

When it was over, 13 people had died in the floods. An estimated 110,000 homes were damaged. Twenty Louisiana parishes were declared federal disaster areas in the aftermath.

Electrical distributors and reps in Louisiana tell us that people in the area are still doing initial cleanup and assessing the damage. Over the next few weeks the rebuilding should begin and distributors are making sure they have plenty of inventory in stock or on order to supply the effort.

None of the distributors and reps we spoke with saw any serious damage to their facilities. At Mid-State Supply Co.’s Broussard location, just south of Lafayette, the flood waters rose up the dock but never made it inside the building. Summit Electric Supply’s Gonzales branch saw two feet of water in the parking lot, but it never got close to the building.

The emergency response began immediately. A group of irregulars who call themselves the Cajun Navy, including three employees at Summit Gonzales, started going house-to-house in fishing boats carrying people to safety. “They didn’t wait around for first-responders — for FEMA or the National Guard. They got their boats and went door to door rescuing people out of their houses. Two of our gentlemen rescued 150 people,” said Chip Shows, service center leader for Summit’s Gonzales location.

Even electrical businesses relatively removed from the Baton Rouge area have been affected in different ways. Christopher Cappo, owner of rep agency CEMI-US in Harahan, La., near New Orleans, has three employees in the military reserves who got called-up soon after the floods hit, including two who run CEMI-US’s warehouse. Cappo has thus stepped into a role he doesn’t usually handle, managing the warehouse with the help of some temporary employees and long hours.

Right now, the bulk of the demand is for temporary power hookups for travel trailers and the FEMA trailers that are beginning to arrive. The impact on the power grid was less than most storms Louisiana sees because there were no hurricane-strength winds knocking out power poles. Utilities shut down some substations pre-emptively and had them back in operation quickly. Now they’re putting temporary power poles in people’s yards to hook up the trailers where residents will live while the recovery proceeds.

Commercial and residential contractors and customers are all busy ripping out drywall and carpet and replacing essentials to get facilities to a condition where it’s at least safe to operate, and will wait to fix the rest of it later.

Most expect the recovery process to take a year or more. “The severity of the impact on Baton Rouge is expected to be as serious as we saw from Katrina and we’ll have a lot of contractors going down there to help,” said Hebron of Mid-State Supply. “Experienced, insured, licensed contractors will be in short supply. There’s a whole lot of work to be done.”

Once the real work of recovery gets underway, distributors are looking at lots of residential and commercial basic electrical equipment — panel boards, building wire, receptacles and switches and boxes.

Distributors said their vendors have been reaching out, offering help, activating emergency policies that put orders from authorized distributors in disaster areas at the top of the list for delivery. Distributors themselves have been busy reaching out to their customers with offers of help, whether it’s electrical equipment or sending a truck to deliver water to a customer’s employee who’s stranded.

Sonnier credits Summit’s emergency advance planning with minimizing the disruptions and distress of the disaster. The company had a specific preparedness plan with lists of materials made available to the branches in damaged areas. “What causes fear is when you don’t know what to do,” he said. “Our people knew exactly what to do and that helps.”