Lately, Chauvin residents Ted and Lana Leblanc find themselves in awe.
They’re in awe by what Hurricane Ida did to their bayou community. They’re also in awe by the number of lineworkers, bucket trucks and heavy machinery that has descended upon Terrebonne Parish following one of the strongest storms to ever hit Louisiana.
“There are so many (utility) trucks passing by every day. We’re so grateful,” said Lana Leblanc.
While Lana Leblanc has lived in Chauvin most of her life, growing up just a couple houses down Little Caillou Road from where the couple reside today, her husband is from Thibodaux and remembers Hurricane Betsy, which crossed over the Bayou Region in 1965, well.
“This is worse,” said Ted Leblanc as he surveyed the damage caused by Ida. Meanwhile, Lana Leblanc described the storm as “relentless”.
When asked what keeps them south, the couple who’ve been married for 50 years say, “This is home.”
The Leblancs rode out the storm at their daughter’s house up the road. Mother Nature, they said, brought strong winds that ripped patio awnings from homes and sent sheds rolling across the ground.
The storm also sent debris, uprooted trees and fallen limbs into powerlines, breaking utility poles and damaging electric equipment.
It’s a grim statistic: Approximately 30,000 poles, more than 36,000 spans of wire and nearly 6,000 transformers were left in need of repair or replacement. Of the 30,000 poles (more than what was left damaged by hurricanes Katrina, Ike, Delta and Zeta combined), nearly 80% were located in the heavily impacted areas.
For lower Terrebonne, much of Entergy’s distribution system is being rebuilt. That means new poles are being placed in the ground and new wire and hardware are being hung in the air.
Among those rebuilding the electric system Thursday were several lineworkers with a utility contractor from Georgia. The Leblancs were eager to show them southern hospitality. Ted Leblanc even offered up some beef jerky from one of his favorite establishments in Schriever. The couple also snapped a photograph of the workers, a sign they’ve become hometown heroes welcome to stay for as long as they like.
For many who’ve arrived since Ida left, including Entergy operations leaders Jamie Chapman, Brad Lavergne and Shane Bolles, Terrebonne Parish will be home until the lights come back on.
While Chapman and Lavergne are from the Lake Charles area, Bolles typically works in Jefferson Davis Parish. The three are no strangers to powerful storms, having worked around the clock last year to restore power to communities in southwest Louisiana following Hurricane Laura.
Now, they’ve come to southeast Louisiana’s aid. Stanley Mills, Entergy Louisiana line supervisor based in Houma, says his network is grateful for the help.
“We’re making great progress in the Terrebonne area, and it’s in part because we have experienced leaders here helping us make sure crews and equipment are where they need to be so that restoration efforts can progress as safely and efficiently as possible,” said Mills.
By Thursday, crews had replaced approximately 2,200 poles, 4,000 spans of wire, 440 transformers and 1,900 crossarms throughout the Terrebonne network alone.
“It takes a team,” said Chapman, who on Thursday took a few minutes in between assisting Lavergne and Bolles with crew assignments to speak with her 2-year-old daughter Charlotte.
It can be tough working 16-hour days away from family, but motivation, Chapman and others with network command say, comes in the form of power.
“Restoring electric service is what we’re here to do, and when personnel from the field let us know electric service has been returned to another area, it adds momentum,” Lavergne said.
And that momentum, Lavergne said, is thanks to the thousands of lineworkers who are booming in the air in their buckets or, in many cases around the Bayou Region, climbing poles manually in backyards and the marsh.
In backyards or lots that can’t be accessed by truck, crews oftentimes must carry tools and equipment across saturated ground. They also oftentimes must use rear-alley machines to transport and set poles. Then, to hang wire and install new hardware, crews generally must climb poles manually.
Work along waterways and wetlands can be just as challenging. Crews oftentimes must travel in marsh buggies or by airboat to reach damaged equipment.
While all the above can add time to restoration efforts, crews working for Entergy are skilled in their craft and will continue working until all customers who can safety accept electric service are restored.
“It’s been a long road for our communities here in Terrebonne, but we’re going to continue giving it our all to get the lights back on. That’s our commitment and we will not waver from it,” Mills said.
For the latest on Entergy’s efforts to restore power following Ida, visit entergy.com/hurricaneida. The company currently anticipates restoring power to Terrebonne Parish by Sept. 29. To view a map including estimated times of restoration, visit entergy.com/hurricaneida/etr/.
– By David Freese, Entergy Louisiana Spokesman