Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks to media about Zeta damage in New Orleans metro area. (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

The day after Hurricane Zeta quickly tore through Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards — appearing at a press conference at New Orleans Lakefront Airport — said that the main impacts were, as predicted, due to heavy winds that caused widespread power outages and downed trees and branches.

“The biggest challenge is restoration of electricity,” Edwards said at a Thursday press conference. “I don’t have a lot of information about that particular timeline… It will be some time before all of that is complete.”

Across Louisiana, 475,000 households were without power in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Edwards said there were still 457,000 outages remaining  as of noon on Thursday. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said that last night, 175,000 customers in New Orleans were without power. She said that number dropped to about 125,000 customers as of 2 p.m. Thursday.

Edwards noted that one optimistic point was that the outages were largely due to failures in the distribution system — the local network of poles and wires that brings electricity to every house and business — rather than the transmission system — the regional network that brings bulk electricity over large distances.

Edwards said it’s faster to fix the distribution system. 

“We still have Cameron Parish without electricity for the most part all these weeks after Hurricane Laura, and that’s because we had transmission towers, hundreds of these very tall steel towers that were damaged or destroyed and hot to be replaced. We’re not talking about that kind of damage here.”

The CEO of Entergy New Orleans, David Ellis, told The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate on Thursday that 90 percent of customers would have power restored within 10 days, and that the “lion’s share” of customers would have power back by the weekend. Edwards said he hadn’t received an official timeline yet, but that the utility companies would be doing assessments throughout the day. 

Edwards said that the focus was restoring power to essential infrastructure, including hospitals and water systems. With the presidential election just days away, Edwards said that focus included polling places as well. Officials from the Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal Court’s Office and the Secretary of State are already assessing the 126 polling places around Orleans Parish. 

Cantrell, who also appeared at the Thursday press conference, said that while the storm was technically a Category 2, recorded wind speeds by the National Hurricane Center were only one mile per hour under the threshold to make it Category 3. She said that the lack of electricity had caused some concerns for the Sewerage and Water Board, specifically issues around pumping sewage. 

“It’s something that gives us great concern if we continue to see sustained outages,” she said, noting that they were still managing at the moment.

Power outages at traffic lights have caused a number of accidents, Cantrell said. She said that any intersection with a down traffic signal should be treated as a four way stop. 

She said that aside from power outages, downed trees and branches have caused issues through the city. She said that the city had set up a “crisis cleanup hotline” for people who need help cleaning debris or setting up blue tarps on damaged roofs at 504-350-0788.

Both Cantrell and Edwards warned that many hurricane-related deaths can come in the days after a storm hits, and urged residents to be cautious. Edwards specifically warned about gas generators, and said that they should only be used at least 20 feet away from your home and away from windows or any other place that could allow emissions to get in your house. He also warned people to be careful trying to clear debris.

“If you aren’t experienced in using chainsaws and cutting up trees, please be very careful and try not to do that.” 

Edwards said there were government office closures in eight parishes: Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany and Terrebonne. He said that the drive-through coronavirus testing sites set up by the National Guard in New Orleans and Baton Rouge were closed, but expected to be open again on Friday.

Michael Isaac Stein

Michael Isaac Stein covers New Orleans' cultural economy and local government for The Lens. Before joining the staff, he freelanced for The Lens as well as The Intercept, CityLab, The New Republic, and...