BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - September 1, 2008 – do you remember where you were that day?
It was a Monday – Labor Day – most folks were looking forward to an uneventful end of the holiday weekend. But if you lived in Baton Rouge, at the end of the day, it would be anything but uneventful, thanks to a storm named Gustav.
Hurricane Gustav made landfall the morning of September 1, 2008 near Cocodrie. It was a Category 2 hurricane, winds of 90 mph. Initially expected to be a New Orleans storm, it quickly became apparent that Gustav had other plans and the Capital City was directly in its path.
According to Entergy Louisiana, Gustav is on record as being one of the strongest "wind events" the system has ever experienced. At the time it hit, Gustav caused the second largest peak number of outages (964,000) in the history of Entergy; at the peak of the storm, approximately 830,000 customers in Louisiana were without power.
Utility poles were tossed and twisted like pretzels – 1,000 of trees were uprooted, blown onto homes, automobiles – roofs ripped away and buildings destroyed; two fatalities were reported in Baton Rouge. It was estimated that 85 percent of the city had lost power.
According to Dennis Dawsey, the VP of Operations for Entergy LA and the "Incident Commander" for Gustav, there were several things that were unique about Gustav in terms of the damage it created, "the first of which was the impact it had on our transmission system, it tracked the Mississippi River which is a heavy industrial area and heavy transmission corridor for us."
Statewide, 575 circuit miles were affected, 240 transmission lines knocked out of service, 260 transmission structures either damaged or destroyed and 11,700 distribution poles damaged or destroyed.
Within 24 hours, "a curfew," the first ever for BR, was ordered. Within 48 hours, Air Force One landed at Metro Airport and President Bush was on the ground to see for himself the unimaginable damage. Thirty-four parishes were declared disaster areas.
So, here we are – 10 years later – if another Category 2 hurricane has Baton Rouge in its crosshairs THIS Labor Day, what have we learned?
Dennis Dawsey stated that after "every event, we have a lessons learned critique of what worked and what didn't work so well. We've worked really hard on improving the resiliency of our system, put in new standards, higher wind rating following Gustav on new construction and continuing that effort even now."
"We've made a lot of improvements since 10 years ago," added Melonie Stewart, acting VP of Customer Service Entergy Louisiana. "Today, we have our Viewer Outage website, we have Outage Texting, we have our Entergy Storm System which provides updated information throughout the day – we've done a lot on the customer communications front. If you just think about ten years ago, you weren't texting as much as you do today, nor did you have as many apps downloaded on your mobile device – so we do have the Entergy App, we have Alert Messaging Systems and we encourage our customers to sign up for text messaging so we can get them information."
Clay Rives, the Director of the EBR Mayors Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (MOSEP) takes this a step further: "we're very confident we can respond well to any level of threat – our responders are some of the best in the world – we have plans. But what we have, more than that, we have really good stakeholders – volunteer organizations – we have the buddy system, where we're going to help each other. We plan for this, we train for this, certainly we don't want a storm to come, but we are prepared if it happens. We're going to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens."
Later, when asked about Hurricane Gustav, then Mayor President Kip Holden used the familiar quote, "these are the times that try men's souls" … Baton Rouge, we were tried and tested but I believe we've learned our lesson well!