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Issues With Entergy Outage Maps And Alerts Frustrate Louisianans Despite Restoration Efforts

Aubri Juhasz
After Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans and southeast Louisiana as a Category 4 storm, it left behind significant damage and downed trees and power lines that caused mass power outages.

More than 85% of New Orleans has power back 10 days after Hurricane Ida made landfall, a level of progress that Entergy officials described as miraculous during a call with media members Wednesday.

“Getting the greater New Orleans area largely restored in 10 days following a near Category 5 hurricane has been a tremendous feat,” Entergy New Orleans President and CEO Deanna Rodriguez said during a phone call with media members on Wednesday.

But a long stretch of southeast Louisiana from the gulf to the Mississippi border remains powerless, about 290,000 of them Entergy customers. Terrebonne, St. Charles and parts of Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes will have to wait until around September 29 to have power restored to the vast majority of customers. Some may even have to wait into October.

Residents in New Orleans have been frustrated by Entergy’s restoration efforts as well, despite the utility’s faster pace in the city. Some neighborhoods in New Orleans are expected to be without power for a few more weeks, including the Venetian Isles, Irish Bayou and Lake Catherine.

Lights remain off where the utility signals otherwise. And having electricity back also doesn’t guarantee it will stay back, with it no longer taking a hurricane to knock out power but an afternoon shower.

After Dora Whitfield got word Sunday that power was back on at her Gentilly home, she drove back to New Orleans from a Texas hotel.

One of the first things she did was clean and empty out her fridge, where she left food before evacuating. To replace essential items that had gone bad — butter, eggs, orange juice and meats — it cost Whitfield $200.

On Tuesday, she heard a loud boom.

Her power was out again — she suspects because of the day’s rain — and Whitfield was once again worried she would lose a second fridge’s worth of groceries.

“They rushed to get the power back,” Whitfield said. “Now Gentilly back with no lights.”

After Hurricane Ida, Louisiana’s power grid remains vulnerable, including places where power has been restored. One particular danger comes from the trees damaged by the storm. Passing rainstorms and wind can dislodge limbs that then in turn take out power lines. The utility also must shut off power to some places so it can continue repairing other parts of the grid.

Stephan Bisaha/Gulf States Newsroom
Ida quickly knocked out power across Southeast Louisiana when it made landfall August 29. The data is also based on Entergy’s outage map. The utility has admitted the map has inaccuracies, which would also appear in this map.

Entergy points to just how devastating the storm was — more power poles have been taken down than during Zeta, Delta and Katrina combined. At one point, Ida left more than 900,000 Entergy customers without power.

Luke McEvoy said he and his neighbors haven't experienced fickle power restoration, but rather issues with the utility's communication.

On Sunday, some of Entergy’s lineman came by McEvoy’s home in his part of Uptown and gave him good news — power had been restored to his home. According to their outage records, his house got electricity back on Saturday.

But there was a problem — his house didn’t actually have power. Neither did any of the other houses for several blocks. The only lights came from the houses where he could hear the buzz of generators.

“The real kicker was that Entergy sort of told us what a great job they were doing, well done for them for putting the power back on,” McEvoy said. “But hold on, it’s not on.”

McEvoy said one of his neighbors had evacuated to Houston and drove back when Entergy’s outage map showed power was restored to the block, only to find out that wasn’t true when he arrived.

Entergy’s outage map shows which streets are getting power in the city. But just because a street has power doesn’t mean it’s reaching actual homes, which has caused confusion and frustration for residents. Entergy admits the map has inaccuracies but decided to keep the map up to provide the best information the company had.

Provided by Luke McEvoy
A screenshot of Luke McEvoy’s phone after Entergy said power was restored to his home when it was not. After he responded to the text saying power was still out, Entergy informed him he was removed from future text alerts.

The utility said people who wanted to know about their home should sign up for text alerts instead.

But that has problems too. McEvoy received a text message alerting him his power was back, contrary to the evidence provided by his light switch. The message told him to report an outage by typing ‘OUT.” When he did, McEvoy got a message saying he was removed from alerts.

Power eventually came back on for McEvoy and his neighbors days later. He’s grateful to the linemen working to get electricity restored across the city. But the high school ELA teacher believes the utility was more interested in putting out positive messages rather than honest ones.

“I would give them out of five lightbulbs, they get two,” McEvoy said. “With the possibility of extra credit should they decide to wave a lot of bills and perhaps publish some kind of paper on what actually happened.”

Entergy predicts 90 percent of New Orleans should have power back by the end of Wednesday, though parts of Venetian Isles, Irish Bayou and Lake Catherine will have to wait until the end of the month.

Here’s the latest estimates from Entergy for restoring 90% of power to other parishes:

  • Assumption Parish, Sept. 22
  • East Bank of Jefferson Parish, Sept. 8
  • Lafourche Parish, Sept. 29
  • Livingston Parish, Sept. 7
  • Lower Jefferson Parish, Sept. 29
  • Plaquemines Parish, Sept. 29 (Belle Chasse on Sept. 10)
  • St. Bernard Parish, Sept. 8
  • St. Charles Parish, Sept. 29
  • St. James Parish, Sept. 17
  • St. John Parish, Sept. 17
  • St. Tammany Parish, Sept. 10
  • Tangipahoa Parish/St. Helena, Sept. 17
  • Terrebonne Parish, Sept. 29
  • Washington Parish, Sept. 10
  • Westbank of Jefferson Parish, Sept. 8

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and local listeners.

Stephan Bisaha is the wealth and poverty reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, a regional collaboration between NPR and member stations in Alabama (WBHM), Mississippi (MPB) and Louisiana (WWNO and WRKF). He reports on the systemic drivers of poverty in the region and economic development.

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