It could take days to determine how badly the New Orleans power grid was damaged by Hurricane Ida and even longer to restore power in some areas with thousands of homes and businesses now in the dark, as work crews begin the task of assessing damage across the region.
There were 888,000 power outages in New Orleans and the surrounding area Monday morning, Entergy New Orleans CEO Deanna Rodriguez said at a news conference Monday afternoon.
The utility company said in a statement earlier Monday that it "may take up to three days before we know how long until power will be restored" and "those in the hardest-hit areas could experience power outages for weeks."
Ida made landfall as a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds on the same day that Hurricane Katrina struck 16 years earlier. The catastrophic storm knocked out all eight transmission lines that deliver power into the New Orleans area, the power utility said in a statement Sunday.
The utility has confirmed that at least one of them, a large tower that spans the Mississippi River, has collapsed. It had withstood Katrina in 2005, Entergy said.
Rodriguez said crews were working to assess the extent of the damage to the other lines.
“We don't know if one is severely damaged, they could be, it could be minor damage that would allow us to get that fixed more quickly," she said. "I don't have a good answer for you yet.”
The company also said in an earlier statement that as of 8 a.m. local time, 216 substations, 207 transmission lines, and more than 2,000 miles of transmission lines were out of service.
“I want to emphasize that it is not just New Orleans, it is the surrounding area and so Entergy is working to address that immediately,” she said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday afternoon that restoring power to critical infrastructure is a priority.
“Quite frankly, we're talking about things like our hospitals, dialysis centers and so forth,” he said at a news conference.
Edwards said there were 25,000 linemen in Louisiana from 22 states engaged in the effort to restore power and several thousand more were on the way.
Rodriguez said earlier the utility company had about 4,500 workers on the ground in New Orleans doing damage assessments Monday. They “went out at first light this morning and they are going where it is safe to go.”
“They will help us get a better idea of what we're dealing with and it would be premature for me to speculate at this time when power will be restored,” she said. “I know that's your No. 1 question, but until we can collect the damage assessment, we can't give you that answer just yet, so I apologize. By end of day we'll know more, by tomorrow we'll know more.”
Rodriguez said for those residents who have evacuated, “we don't want you to come back for a whole host of reasons, but one because it's hot and you won't have power.”
She said that the company is bringing in helicopters and using drones and other technology in hard-to-reach places.
“It's a large footprint that we're talking about, we're using all kinds of technology in order to do this as quickly and as safely as possible,” she said.