The outrage that many locals feel towards Entergy after last week and weekend’s power failure is justified, I feel. “Hurricane” Isaac, was just barely a storm, barely a Cat 1 hurricane. Most of us were without power from Tuesday morning when the wind started blowing through Sunday night: five days without power, thousands of dollars (probably hundreds of thousands of dollars) of food lost in non-functioning refrigerators and freezers. Lots of human suffering; there was even an elderly man who died from a heat stroke because he didn’t have electricity. I’m not downplaying all the poor folks who flooded because of Isaac. That’s a whole different subject. I know how devastating it is to get water in your house and car (been there, done that); it’s horrible. But let’s just discuss the power outage.
From a business standpoint, who knows how many millions of dollars were lost by local businesses because they had no power? OffBeat lost literally an entire week of work; our magazine was printed, but delivered late because the shipper couldn’t communicate with the warehouse, which was closed because of the lack of power. In a random query of the businesses on Frenchmen Street, I received estimates of losses ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, even $50,000 due to loss of business, food that had to be discarded, etc. The worst sufferers who can stand it the least are the musicians and hourly workers in these businesses and elsewhere in the hospitality industry who depend on their pay, who got none because of power outages. That’s something to consider.
When we came back from Katrina, it was wonderful that we were able to work in a temporary office in the French Quarter because there was power there. I always wondered why the Quarter had power, and figured (like a lot of New Orleanians) why the Quarter only was back up and functional—I heard grumbling “the city doesn’t want to lose the tourist business, so they get that running first!”
I think it’s probably something a little more different than wanting to keep the tourists happy: the electrical utilities in the French Quarter are underground. Most of the rest of the city has poles with wires. This certainly makes the city much uglier; I look around the city and it would make such an extreme difference in the way the city appears, and of course, it would probably solve the hurricane (I mean, strong wind) issues that knock out electrical grid every time a gust of wind comes up. In our Frenchmen Street offices, our electricity goes out at the drop of a hat, storm or no storm. If doesn’t need to be raining, or windy. Sometimes our power just dies. Does that mean some bird clipped a power line on a sunny day? It’s ridiculous. I can’t tell you how frightening it is to be at deadline, ready to go to press, and your power goes out. Not just for a minute. But until the next day. What is this, a third-world country? Oh yeah, I forgot…
Yes, it would cost a lot of money, but surely Entergy should be held accountable for the significant amount of damage that’s done to the city, its citizens, businesses and commerce every time we have to endure a power outage. A letter in today’s T-P pointed out what happens in other areas with buried utilities. And oh my goodness, the city would look so much better (thanks to Amanda Summerlin’s website and lovely photos of New Orleans city streets).