(This article is one in a series that tells the stories of Entergy employees and their experiences during the Hurricane Katrina restoration.)
Days before she hit, we were preparing the storm room when we realized Hurricane Katrina was going to hit the Mississippi or Louisiana coast. It was a sobering moment.
Monday, August 29—tracking the hurricane’s path, we watched outages mount, shell-shocked by the devastation. In that single day, 300,000 of our 410,000 customers lost power.
I was vice president of customer operations then, assigned to work with customer service, local officials, our communications team and crucial logistical needs. I was one cog in a well-oiled machine set in motion before Katrina’s landfall that ensured power would be restored. But what we learned with Katrina was that no matter what your planned role was, everything changed. We did whatever it took to rebuild an electrical infrastructure that had taken 80 years to create.
I was inspired by the way our employees set aside their personal losses to stand tall in their jobs, and at how retirees reported back to work, knowing they would be needed. One story of grit and determination particularly stands out.
A few days after the storm, the fuel crisis hit. People lined up at gas stations. Fights broke out.
The City of Jackson prepared for possible riots. Our trucks were on the verge of running out of fuel, too. The gasoline supply was tight because virtually all electricity in Collins was out. Collins is a major hub for piping fuel from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast. This put a major constraint on gasoline to the Mid-South, and was starting to impact the eastern seaboard. The Department of Energy and FEMA were concerned about fuel supplies to the rest of the country. We all needed that fuel. People’s lives were depending on it, and the U.S. economy would come to a halt if we didn’t do something to get the fuel moving.
We don’t serve Collins. Southern Pine Electric Power Association and Mississippi Power Company, which had 100 percent destruction, do. Mississippi Power asked for our help in getting electricity to the town, but we didn’t have a feed in there.
Luckily, some of our employees realized that we had a transmission interconnection just south of the Mississippi-Louisiana border that ties into Mississippi Power’s lines. Working with their employees, our guys figured out that if we rebuilt that segment we could tie into their system and flow power into Collins.
That was easier said than done. They had to first build a road through miles of marsh to even get to the area where a transmission tower and seven miles of line were crumpled and buried in muck. The next problem was finding a specialized helicopter that could airlift a transmission tower into the site.
Then-U.S. Senator Trent Lott and then-Maj. Gen. Harold Cross of the Mississippi National Guard came to the rescue, and the rebuilding of a major transmission artery and restoration of power to Collins, which should have taken weeks to accomplish, was finished in under seven days. A national crisis was averted.
I was so proud of our team for coming up with that plan. It’s a great example of people coming together to help one another out in our darkest hour.
I continue to see this spirit every day as our employees go about their jobs working to keep the lights on for our now-442,000 Mississippi customers.
Though Entergy’s “war room” lies mercifully dormant today, we are well prepared for this year’s hurricane season. Katrina was a demanding teacher, but the lessons we learned have led to improvements in customer service and logistics today.
We’re encouraged that natural disasters can and will be overcome by the human spirit. Entergy Mississippi has built a company that can meet challenges today and far into the future. We know the dedication, energy and passion we’ve seen in our company and our state can fuel a brighter future for Mississippi.