NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When a light came on in the laundry room in Byron Lambert's house at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, he awoke with a start, thinking he had a burglar. Then he quickly realized what he saw was cause for celebration: The power was back.
Lambert happens to live in a small sliver of New Orleans where power was restored early Wednesday, more than two days after Hurricane Ida's Category 4 strength winds left the city and much of the region in darkness.
"I'm like, ‘All right! We got power!’” Lambert said he remembered thinking. But then his enthusiasm was tempered by the knowledge of what others are still going through.
Although Entergy said 11,500 customers in the city of nearly 400,000 people had their electricity restored, 989,000 homes and businesses were without power — 44% of all state utility customers in southeast Louisiana from the New Orleans area to Baton Rouge, according to the state Public Service Commission.
Officials with Entergy, which provides power to New Orleans as well as other areas, said the restoration process will not happen overnight. They said the company's first priority is to bring electricity back to key parts of the infrastructure.
The first few customers to get power back in New Orleans — both in their homes and outside on their streets — marked “a huge first step,” said Phillip May, president and CEO of Entergy Louisiana. Outside of New Orleans, Entergy has restored power to about 100,000 customers, mostly in the Baton Rouge area, May said.
For New Orleans residents who saw power return it was cause for celebration. Lambert called the neighbors in his close-knit community, and his wife and mother-in-law, who had evacuated to Texas to let them know it was OK to return. He was also keenly aware of how many other people were still struggling in the heat.
“I pray for them because it’s rough," Lambert said.
Entergy said Wednesday that more than 5,000 power poles were damaged and more than 5,200 transformers knocked out by Ida. More than 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometers) of transmission lines remain out of service. The company has given no specific time frame for when power will be widely restored.
This particular part of eastern New Orleans was able to power up because crews restored a major transmission line coming into the city from the east, company spokesman Lee Sabatini said. That line was coupled with power generated by the New Orleans Power Station, which is also located in eastern New Orleans.
Across the street from Lambert, neighbor and friend Wayne Bierria was out mowing his lawn, trying to get things done around the house before it got too hot. He got power back about the same time as Lambert.
Bierria was especially thankful that his is one of the homes that again have electricity because his family has medical issues. He suffers from asthma and sometimes needs a nebulizer which has to be plugged in, while his wife — who went to stay with a relative who has a generator — is diabetic and needs to keep her medicine cold.
“Any longer without that (power), we’d have been in some trouble,” he said.
But for Shaundra Martin, getting the power back was only a partial solution to much bigger problem: She returned to her house Tuesday to find that it had significant roof damage and water had leaked all over the white tile floor. The blast of the cool air conditioning in the house Wednesday was of little comfort as she and her mother quickly mopped up the water to prevent mold from settling in.
“Today with the power, I started cleaning," she said. “But we’ll get through it. It’s life, living in Louisiana.”
Meanwhile, those in the majority of New Orleans neighborhoods still without power, residents continued to sweat it out while crews assessed lines and ascended in bucket trucks to make repairs. Just blocks away from where the electricity had been restored, Rashad Carter was cooking a breakfast of bacon and eggs for his extended family on a charcoal grill and making plans.
If the power isn't back on here by Thursday, they plan to stay someplace farther east where it is. He said the heat is particularly challenging for the children: He sent a daughter to stay with other family members in a hotel.
As to when the power might come back, he said a lot of rumors were flying around.
“A lot of people say 4 p.m. A lot of people say 12 p.m. A lot of people say two to three weeks. So we don’t know. We’re just hoping,” he said. “If we got to leave we got to leave. ... We got patience."
Ireta Butler was going to stay with a friend in Slidell until the power came back. She lives in an apartment complex that didn’t have electricity and was worried about getting heatstroke. Leaning on her walker with a wet towel draped around her neck, she said she’d been feeling faint the night before.
“My husband stood up all night fanning me, putting water all on me. I kept getting in and out of the shower, trying to cool my body temperature down,” she said. “We’re going to go out there and stay a couple of days until we find out things are better in New Orleans. That’s all we can do.”
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