Gustav knocks power out to 1.4 million in Louisiana

HOUSTON Tue Sep 2, 2008 6:17pm EDT

1 of 3. Without power Ele Reynolds (L) and Alex Reyes (R) sit on a empty Orleans Ave. as they escape the heat inside their a home which they used for shelter during Hurricane Gustave in New Orleans, September 2, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Sean Gardner

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HOUSTON (Reuters) - More than 1.4 million households in Louisiana were without power Tuesday morning as utilities prepared to assess extensive damage from Hurricane Gustav, which slammed the coastline a day earlier, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said.

The state's largest utility, Entergy Corp, said 825,000 customers, mostly in Louisiana. lost power, including Entergy areas that serve oil refineries and major oil and gas infrastructure operations.

Entergy said Gustav's impact was second only to Hurricane Katrina that knocked out power to 1.1 million of its customers in 2005.

Pineville, Louisiana-based Cleco said 246,000 customers, about 90 percent of its total, were without power on Tuesday. American Electric Power's Southwestern Electric Power Co in northern Louisiana, reported less than 8,000 outages.

Damage assessment will begin with Entergy's high-voltage power grid, which must be restored before power can flow, said Entergy spokesman Mike Burns. Entergy described the damage to its system as "massive," with 191 power lines and 210 substations out of service.

Entergy's network of power lines able to move electricity from generating plants to customers is currently fractured, leaving an area, including New Orleans and Baton Rouge, as an island, no longer connected to the rest of the system and served only by three power plants, Entergy said.

Reconnecting this area to the state's larger grid will require close coordination, the company said.

Unlike Katrina, however, damage from Gustav is mostly wind-related, rather than from flooding, said Burns.

Katrina's extensive flooding in and around New Orleans hampered restoration efforts for weeks.

Entergy said more than 9,000 workers were en route to help restore power. Some service can be restored in areas where it is safe to do so, Burns said, but assessment of damage to the system and a restoration timetable may take several days.

Reports from outside the company estimated it could be 10 days before power can be restored to oil refineries.

Entergy shut the 967 megawatt River Bend nuclear power station on Monday afternoon. Entergy's 1,152 MW Waterford 3 nuclear reactor shut in advance of Gustav's arrival, according to procedures required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

One MW powers about 500 homes in Louisiana.

(Reporting by Eileen O'Grady; Editing by Marguerita Choy)