Hurricane Delta knocked out power to thousands of homes in the Baton Rouge area late Friday, a serious and somewhat unexpected blow to the local electric grid that left repair workers scrambling to assess the damage the next morning, in some places battling mangled utility poles and tangled wires.
Delta's path through more populated areas of Louisiana left the state with more power outages than her much stronger predecessor Hurricane Laura, the Category 4 storm that also made landfall in Cameron Parish before taking a more northward track that spared the Baton Rouge area from its worst impacts. 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.
Almost 70,000 homes were without power Saturday morning in East Baton Rouge alone, a significant portion of that statewide total and about 32% 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.
Hurricane Delta brought strong winds and heavy rain to much of south and central Louisiana Friday night, knocking out power to hundreds of tho…
Aside from the parishes in northwest Louisiana closer to where Delta made landfall — several with outages affecting more than 90% of homes — 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 expanded her reach after coming ashore, bringing strong winds to Baton Rouge, which was sitting just outside the cone of uncertainty in the latest tracking projections. That expansion was enough to cause significant problems for the local power grid, said Entergy Louisiana spokesman David Freese.
For hours Friday night, the sky around Baton Rouge was lit up with exploding transformers, leaving many customers still without power the next morning. Freese said downed trees appear to be the source of most outages, and that the condition of the power grid itself was not to blame.
Hundreds of Entergy workers have been dispatched throughout the region and are assessing 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.
It's not clear yet exactly how Delta compares to past storms in Louisiana's recent history, but its impacts on the state's power grid don'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. Those impacts depend largely on whether a storm passes through populated areas or takes a more rural route.