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Following Ida, IBEW Members Rush to Restore Power

With all of New Orleans offline, the IBEW and other unions are aiding in the recovery and restoration effort

Brian Young's picture
Aug 30, 2021

On Sunday, on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and Baton Rouge were hit with yet another devastating hurricane. Throughout the day, the city was battered with winds that were upwards of 140 mph and intense rain bands that led to flooding throughout the area.

The storm left much of the Louisiana and Mississippi coast without power and left many people underwater. The storm has knocked out power for every customer in New Orleans after the eight transmission lines that for the city sustained significant damage.

“There are eight transmission lines that feed power to the city of New Orleans that have sustained damage," Deanna Rodriguez, president, and CEO of Entergy New Orleans said Monday. “The catastrophic damage of the storm that hung over west of here caused a lot of damage to the transmission lines that feed New Orleans,” Rodriguez said.

Below is drone footage of the transmission lines that were damaged and now are swinging just feet above the Mississippi River.

According to CNN and Entergy there are over 2,000 miles of power lines that will need to be fixed in the coming days. If stretched across the country that would be like stretching power lines from New York to Utah. As of Monday morning, over one million people were still left without power, although state officials say that estimate could end up being closer to two million.

To repair these power lines and to turn the power back on, 25,000 linemen have been deployed to the region, the Edison Electric Institute said in a press release. These workers, many of whom are from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) come from 32 states, mostly in the Midwest and on the East Coast. They have prepared for days to respond to the storm and have been staged outside of the main disaster areas to allow for a quick response. However, city officials are warning residents in New Orleans that it is likely that they will be without power for weeks. "I think we have to be realistic at the same time and prepare people for a worst-case scenario just like Hurricane Laura and Lake Charles where it took weeks," Joe Giarrusso, a city council member told CNN on Monday.

While customers want their power restored quickly, the process is not so simple. First, crews must assess the damage and prioritize jobs. For example, they will prioritize getting a hospital back on before a single-family home. Next, they need to remove whatever debris is blocking their access to the outage and whatever debris might be on the lines. In a storm like this, it not only means removing trees that have fallen down, but it might also mean getting through houses that have collapsed, roofs that have been blown off, or even things like boats that have washed ashore. Only then can they actually start making the repairs to turn the power back on. Of course, these crews also must wait until it is safe to go into an area, which means that areas that are flooded may have to wait for crews to be able to reach them.

In a call with the Governors of Louisiana and Mississippi on Monday, President Joe Biden said that he and was sending federal help was ordering all necessary assistance in cooperation with the Federal Management Agency. He also said that restoring power to the 1 million people without it would be a top priority. “We’re doing all we can to minimize the amount of time it’s going to take to get power back up for everyone in the region,” the president said.

Biden also said that the federal government would step in to help assess the damage since many regions are still impassable due to floodwaters. "To accelerate the process I've asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to work today with Louisiana and Mississippi electric companies to authorize the use of surveillance drones to assess Ida's damage to energy infrastructure while ensuring those flights don't disrupt aerial search and rescue operations," he continued.

In addition to IBEW and AFGE members who have mobilized to the region, IAFF members from fire departments from across the country have been mobilized to help with rescue efforts.

According to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, there was some good news from the storm. The Governor said that the levees that were built after Hurricane Katrina held, likely protecting New Orleans and other areas of the state from the massive flooding and deaths that were seen during Hurricane Katrina. The levee system in the state was an important infrastructure project and it would seem during Hurricane Ida that the investment in infrastructure paid off.

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