Power makes slow return to eastern New Orleans

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Destruction is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in Grand Isle, La. Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. Louisiana residents still reeling from flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Ida scrambled for food, gas, water and relief from the sweltering heat while facing the dispiriting prospect of weeks without electricity to power air conditioners and refrigerators. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Entergy said Wednesday that it is slowly adding power back to New Orleans, and the pace of that work will determine how quickly the region’s important oil refineries can restart operations that were shut down by Hurricane Ida.

The utility company said that it restored power “for some customers in Eastern New Orleans” — it didn’t say how many — but hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses remained without power or water service.

Entergy said powering up the rest of the area “will still take time given the significant damage” to the power grid.

Companies with refineries including Valero and Royal Dutch Shell said they were assessing damage and offered no timetable for resuming operations.

The storm’s aftermath is also hampering freight rail service that is critical for carrying goods to and from southern Louisiana.

Norfolk Southern said Wednesday its main route into New Orleans was open, and Union Pacific said most of its Louisiana network has returned to service excepting a section between New Orleans and St. James, Louisiana.

But BNSF said its main line between Lafayette, Louisiana, and New Orleans remained out of service and the company could not estimate when it would reopen. CSX said it was repairing track and signals along the coastline, and shipments on a portion of its network could be delayed. Kansas City Southern said repairs were continuing in the New Orleans area, and service was expected to be restored later this week.

Ida ravaged the region’s power grid, leaving all of New Orleans and hundreds of thousands of other Louisiana residents in the dark with no clear timeline on when electricity would be restored. Entergy has said it will take weeks to fully restore power.

The widespread power outages are hampering a number of refiners in the region. All told, nine Louisiana refineries, which collectively account for about 13% of the nation’s refining capacity, were forced to close, at least temporarily, by the storm, the U.S. Energy Department said Tuesday.

Valero said late Tuesday that it was still assessing the storm’s impact on its St. Charles and Meraux refineries. Its other Gulf Coast refineries, all in Texas, are running.

Shell said its Norco manufacturing site, one of the country’s largest petrochemical facilities, lost power and the building suffered damage. Additionally, its primary crew-change heliport in Houma, Louisiana, sustained “significant damage,” and the company needs to establish a temporary heliport in the next few days.

Benchmark U.S. crude erased early gains and fell about $1 or 1.5% to $67.49 per barrel in late-morning trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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