Leader Blues

Friday, September 05, 2008

TOP STORY > >Gustav dumps on area before calling it quits

Leader staff writer

The remnants of Hurricane Gustav brought wind gusts up to 50 miles an hour and nearly 11 inches of rain to the area — a record.

The winds and the rain put thousands of Arkansans in the dark as trees fell on lines, transformers shorted out and even some utility poles toppled.

By Wednesday morning, about 93,000 Entergy customers were without power and likewise for 18,000 First Electric customers.

Making matters worse, many of the utilities’ workers were and still are in Louisiana helping to restore power to about 800,000 residences and businesses.

By Friday, First Electric reported that only 25 customers were still without power, but expected to have lights on for everyone by Saturday.

Entergy still had about 20,000 without power and didn’t expect to have everyone up until late Sunday.

Besides loss of power, the storm’s monstrous rainfall has also affected the area’s water quality. The storm has stirred up and increased the magnesium levels in the water causing discoloration in tap water. The water is safe to drink but will stain clothes.

“Manganese is a naturally occurring element that poses no health risks,” said Sharon Sweeny, with Central Arkansas Water.

“We are attempting to eliminate the discoloration through adjustments to our treatment process and we are continually monitoring the system,” she said.

Sweeney added that the discolored water will stain fabric so customers needed to check the water going into their washing machines over the next few days before washing clothes.

Barbara Merrick, with Entergy, said Wednesday about half of the utility’s linemen had been sent to southern Louisiana in advance of the hurricane hitting the coast. But a large portion of them have returned to the state. “Our crews that were here and those returning from Louisiana are supplemented by almost 200 more utility workers from Missouri, Ohio and other Midwest locations who were on their way to help in the Gulf Coast area,” said.

Merrick said part of the reason it has been taking so long to get power restored has been the winds. “It’s not safe to operate from an elevated bucket or climb a utility pole in winds over 30 miles an hour,” she said, and winds were in the range and higher most of Wednesday and Thursday.

“Our two top priorities are, one, the safety of our customers and our employees, and, two, restoring power—in that order,” said Hugh McDonald, president of Entergy Arkansas. “We sincerely appreciate everyone’s patience,” he said.

Neal Frizzell, with First Electric, said none of his company’s crews were in Louisiana when central Arkansas was hit.

“All of our crews have remained in the area since the onset of the storm. Once power is restored to all First Electric customers, then some of our crews may travel to Louisiana to assist with Hurricane Gustav repairs,” he said.

At the height of the outages early Wednesday, First Electric had 13,700 customers out in Saline and southern Pulaski counties, 3,100 out in north Pulaski County and 1,200 out in Perry County.

At last count that was down to 4,600 in Saline and southern Pulaski counties, 130 in north Pulaski County and 25 in Perry County.

Merrick, with Entergy which operates electric utilities in Arkansas and Louisiana, said that Louisiana’s transmission, which is interconnected with Entergy Arkansas, sustained massive damage from Hurricane Gustav with 191 transmission lines and 210 substations out of service.

She said with the extent of damage to the infrastructure and 850,000 outages, Gustav becomes the second-worst natural disaster faced by Entergy in its 95-year history, topped only by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.