Cleco wraps up Gustav

PINEVILLE – Tuesday night, Cleco wrapped up its Hurricane Gustav storm response work, restoring power to all customers who lost service after the storm made landfall early Monday, Sept. 1, as a Category 2 hurricane. Customers whose homes were damaged by the storm will have to make repairs before their service can be restored.

Until Gustav, Hurricane Lili had caused more power outages than any other storm in Cleco's 73-year history. Lili left approximately 170,000 customers in the company's eastern, southern, central and northern service areas without power six years ago in 2002. Gustav also caused damage in all four of the company's service areas but left 246,092 of Cleco's 273,000 customers without electricity.

"It's a devastating blow when 90 percent of your customers lose power," said Dilek Samil, president and COO of Cleco Power. "Our historical data shows that it took six days and 3,500 workers to restore power to approximately 170,000 customers after Lili. By day six of our Gustav restoration effort, we had surpassed that number, restoring power to 239,365 customers. Only 6,727 customers were without power at the end of day six. When you take into account the two days of bad weather after the storm, we really restored power to more customers in less time compared to Lili."

Heavy rain, flooding and tornadoes on Tuesday and Wednesday slowed the company's progress, but workers still managed to restore power to more than half of the affected customers within three days after Gustav. Only 84,633 customers remained without power by the end of the day Thursday.

Damage assessments showed parishes in central and south Louisiana were hit the hardest. At the height of the storm, 85 to 100 percent of Cleco's customers in Acadia, Allen, Avoyelles, Evangeline, Iberia, Rapides, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Vernon and Washington parishes were without power.

The winds from Gustav varied, but the storm was strong enough to flood substations, knock down trees, snap utility poles in half, sever power lines and damage other necessary equipment. Gustav de-energized 33 percent of the company's transmission lines and 23 percent of its transmission substations; however, the real damage occurred on the distribution side. The storm de-energized 90 percent of Cleco's distribution lines and early estimates show workers replaced more than 1,000 broken poles. Gustav also flooded customers' homes and caused electrical damage behind their meters.

"Some of our customers in the central part of the state told us they've never seen this kind of damage," said Samil. "While Hurricane Katrina, which is still on record as our strongest storm, caused unprecedented damage and left all 80,800 of our customers in St. Tammany and Washington parishes without power, it did not affect our entire territory like Lili and Gustav. The damage from these two storms was widespread."

"Our storm team worked day and night to get the lights back on as soon as possible," said Mike Madison, president and CEO of Cleco Corp. "We had nearly 4,000 workers, which includes several hundred Cleco employees. Many of our outside workers traveled from places as far away as Canada to assist us. This was no small task, and we are grateful for the help we received. Our customers also are to be commended for their patience and support."

Under a mutual assistance agreement with other utilities in the southeast, line crews from Gulf Power Co., in Florida, Oklahoma Gas and Electric in Oklahoma City, Centerpoint Energy in Houston and Oncor in Dallas helped Cleco restore power. Also assisting were line crews and tree trimmers from Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, Delaware, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Canada.

Although still cleaning up after Gustav, Cleco is keeping an eye on Hurricane Ike. The latest forecast shows that Ike has entered the Gulf of Mexico and is expected to maintain its west-northwest track, threatening the Texas coast by late Friday or early Saturday.

"While Ike doesn't appear to be an immediate threat to our service territory, we are officially on storm level one alert," said James Lass, Cleco's general manager of distribution engineering and emergency management. "We're in the middle of hurricane season, and experience has taught us to always be ready."

Cleco's storm plan includes four levels of preparation. The company is on level one when a tropical storm or hurricane enters the Gulf of Mexico, level two when a tropical storm or hurricane watch in is effect for Cleco's service territory, level three when a tropical storm or hurricane warning is in effect and level four when that tropical storm or hurricane has passed and restoration is under way.

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