Hurricane Ida did more damage to Louisiana's electrical grid than any other storm in the history of the state, a local power company said Sunday.
In fact, Entergy Louisiana says Ida did more damage to the grid than Hurricanes Katrina (2005), Delta (2020) and Zeta (2020) combined.
Ida, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 mph, knocked out power to more than 900,000 Entergy customers across southeast Louisiana. According to Entergy, the storm "devastated" Louisiana's power grid, damaging more than 30,000 utility poles, close to 35,000 spans of wire and 5,600 transformers.
"We're seeing twice as much damage as what we had with Laura [in 2020]," said Joe Book, the senior manager of distribution engineering for Entergy in Louisiana. "We've never seen anything this large. Even with Katrina, the damage was extended to multiple states. With Ida, nearly all of the damage is here in Louisiana."
Even without the electric system being completely assessed, Ida's damage to distribution utility poles is nearly double that of Laura, which devastated southwest Louisiana just one year ago.
Compared to Hurricane Katrina, Ida has seen more than 5,000 spans of wire — the length of wire from one utility pole to another — damaged.
"Ida had the devastating impact like Laura in a specific region, plus it impacted three neighboring regions including the two largest metropolitan areas in Louisiana," said Chip Arnold, Louisiana operations and safety senior manager. "So, the infrastructure damage totals are larger, and in addition to that, the breadth of our service territory that was impacted was much greater."
Company officials say the biggest challenge Entergy crews face is replacing more than 24,000 utility poles, which support the power lines that deliver electricity from substations to homes and businesses. Replacing poles can be difficult, especially considering the geographical challenges presented by the impacted region, they say.
Distribution poles can be found in and around marshes, swamps, rivers, heavily wooded areas, and various hard-to-reach locations.
Entergy officials say they came prepared to meet these challenges, using vehicles and equipment like helicopters and drones to locate damaged infrastructure, airboats and marsh buggies to access waterways and rear-ally machines to maneuver tight spaces in residential areas.
In some cases, lineworkers have been forced to climb utility poles without the assistance of heavy machinery at all, as factors like muddy terrain and limited space only allow for trained employees to mount poles with special boots, safety ropes and the assistance of crew members.
"While our workforce is trained to assess each situation, operate the proper machinery and execute work that safely and effectively replaces damaged electric equipment, the unique impact of Ida initiated a call for outside help. Nearly 27,000 restoration workers from 41 states have come to aid Entergy's efforts to restore power," company officials say.
In the week since Ida made landfall in Louisiana, Entergy has restored power to about 350,000 customers. According to PowerOutages.us, more than 500,000 customers in the state are still without electricity.
"The widespread damage and impact inflicted by Hurricane Ida was felt by so many across Louisiana," said Phillip May, the CEO of Entergy Louisiana. "We are overcoming new challenges each day, and our storm team will march forward until we've brought the lights back to all of the communities we serve."
This story was originally published on Scripps station KATC in Lafayette, Louisiana.