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Baton Rouge Takes The Beating This Time

BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) -- The path of Hurricane Gustav offered New Orleans a reprieve, but 80 miles away where utilities say the devastation was the worst they have ever seen, the storm offered nothing but punishment.

The region's top power company, Entergy Corp., said the Baton Rouge area has never suffered damage as severe as that caused by Gustav. The last storm that caused damage close to Gustav was in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida, crossed the Gulf of Mexico and then slammed Louisiana.

Co-op Dixie Electric Membership Corp., based in Baton Rouge, at one-time reported all 95,000 members were without power. The last time that happened: 1992.

Renae Conley, president and chief executive of Entergy Louisiana and Entergy Gulf States Louisiana, has said Gustav was not as bad for New Orleans as Katrina three years ago, but that the situation was worse in Baton Rouge.

"It is pretty devastating to see the amount of transmission damage for the state," she said.

Entergy and Dixie Electric have said it may be weeks before all power is restored.

Trees are down, power poles have been snapped in half and the transmission system was hammered. Utilities, hindered by torrential rains and the threats of tornadoes until the weather began to improve Thursday, must negotiate hills, woods and swamps to get power restored.

The Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in Louisiana, estimates that half the power will be restored in nine days, but that it will take up to four weeks before all power is back.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has said that's unacceptable.

"One of the things that absolutely has to be worked out is what more could be done to harden the lines and make the distribution system more safe for future storms or intentional acts, whether it's additional redundancies or a hardening of the assets," he said Thursday.

He said getting the power restored is key to the state's hard-hit communities back on their feet.

"If we do have full power, it lessens the need to evacuate patients out of hospitals and nursing homes," he said. "If we do have full power, it lessens the need to have to go and buy generators and try to stand up fuel stations, grocery stores and pharmacies. "

The Department of Energy said Thursday morning that 1 million customers are without power, including 925,963 in Louisiana. That is down nearly 200,000 customers from Wednesday afternoon.

Entergy is reporting 700,000 customers without power Thursday morning, down from a peak of 850,000 Tuesday morning and the second most in the utility's 95-year history trailing only Katrina in 2005 when the utility had 1.1 million outages.

Cleco Co. was reporting 128,798 outages Thursday morning, below 50 percent of its total customer base, and said it expects to have power to all of its customers who can take it by Tuesday.


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