Hurricane Delta dealt a somewhat unexpected blow to the Baton Rouge electric grid, creating the area's largest power outage since Isaac in 2012.

The widespread damage came despite Delta's eye traveling about 90 miles west of Baton Rouge. Louisiana's capital city nonetheless experienced strong winds that downed trees across the parish. 

Statewide power outages Saturday morning surpassed those from the much stronger Hurricane Laura, which slammed into southwestern Louisiana just six weeks ago, making landfall in almost the same location before taking a more northward path across the state and sparing Baton Rouge its worst impacts.

But Delta and its outer bands passed through more populated areas, including Baton Rouge, and left more people without power. 

Initial estimates show Delta caused more than 680,000 outages statewide, compared to Laura's 615,000, according to numbers provided to the Louisiana governor's office Saturday morning.

More than 75,000 homes were without power Saturday afternoon in East Baton Rouge alone, a significant portion of that statewide total and about 35% of customers in the parish, according to data from the Louisiana Public Service Commission

Surrounding parishes weren't spared either. Nearly 85% of customers in East Feliciana Parish were without power late Saturday morning, and 77% in Pointe Coupee. 

Aside from the parishes in western Louisiana closer to where Delta made landfall — several with outages affecting almost all residences — data shows the Baton Rouge area received some of the biggest impacts to its power grid. The region saw tropical storm force winds arriving Friday evening and lasting for several hours, with a peak gust of 54 miles per hour recorded at the Baton Rouge airport and 60 miles per hour in New Roads.

It appears that Delta — a Category 2 storm at landfall — expanded its reach after coming ashore, bringing strong winds to Baton Rouge, which was sitting just outside the cone of uncertainty in tracking projections. That expansion was enough to cause significant problems for the local power grid, said Entergy Louisiana spokesman David Freese. 

About 75,800 households in East Baton Rouge were without power at some point Saturday, roughly three quarters the number that resulted from Isaac and significantly fewer than Katrina and Gustav, according to data maintained by the state Public Service Commission.

All three of those storms passed closer to Baton Rouge than Delta.

Category 2 Gustav came ashore near Morgan City on Sept. 1, 2008, and moved up the west side of the Atchafalaya Basin about 35 miles west of Baton Rouge. It had winds of 80 mph when it passed near Henderson and Breaux Bridge, and knocked out power to almost 200,000 East Baton Rouge homes.

Isaac made landfall Aug. 28, 2012, near Grand Isle and cut a path right up the Mississippi River once it hit the area. It had 60 to 70 mph winds as it entered the Baton Rouge metro area, leaving just over 100,000 customers without power. 

Even though Katrina passed to the east of Baton Rouge on Aug. 29, 2005, it was a stronger storm — still a Category 3 with winds of 125 mph at its center well after landfall. That resulted in about 138,000 outages.

By comparison, Delta's eye cut a path about 90 miles west of Baton Rouge. When it crossed U.S. 190 near Eunice, it had winds of about 75 mph.

For hours Friday night, the sky around Baton Rouge was lit up with exploding transformers, leaving many customers still without power the next morning and into Saturday evening. Freese said downed trees appeared to be the source of most outages. He said the condition of the power grid itself was not to blame.

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Hundreds of Entergy workers were dispatched throughout the region Saturday morning to assess the damage. Freese said it's too soon to know how long the outages will last, and the timeline will likely vary widely for different neighborhoods.

Two communities anticipating an extended outage are the rural villages of French Settlement and Port Vincent. The Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office posted on Facebook Saturday morning that the major power lines running between the two communities were severely damaged, saying officials are waiting on Entergy to assess the damage and then "rebuild the electrical service to both villages."

Nearly 9,000 utility workers were staged across Louisiana before the storm, ready to respond to anticipated outages, according to a spokesperson with the governor's office. Another 15,000 were on standby to help if needed.

While Delta caused more power outages statewide than Laura, its impacts on the state power grid didn't rival those from Gustav and Ike, which collectively knocked out electricity for 1.5 million customers statewide in 2008 — more than the combined effects of Katrina and Rita. In addition to the hurricane's strength, those impacts depend largely on whether a storm passes through populated areas or takes a more rural route.


Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.