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Rotary guests on Wednesday included Mike Francis, left, public service commissioner; and Willie Bergeron, service representative with Cleco. (Photo by Myra Miller)

Bergeron: Hurricane Laura is costliest storm ever for Cleco

Hurricane Laura will be the costliest storm to ever hit the Cleco power system, said Willie Bergeron, Cleco service representative, at the Eunice Rotary Club meeting on Wednesday.
“We don’t have the dollar numbers yet,” he said. But he added that for Cleco the hurricane that made landfall on Aug. 27 will be costlier than hurricanes Rita and Katrina.
Laura made landfall on Cameron Parish and is ranked as the tenth-strongest hurricane to strike the U.S. by wind speed.
Bergeron said a wind speed of 127 mph was recorded at Lake Charles and 60 mph at Eunice.
Power was fully restored to the last of affected Cleco customers in Longville, Merryville and DeQunicy on Sept. 18.
Bergeron described the scope of the damage with statistics that included 360 miles of conductor wire down, 1,600 poles down, 1,100 transformers damaged and 4,700 crossarms damaged.
“We alsos had 5,600 trees on distribution power lines despite the tree-trimming efforts that we have,” he said. “Most of the trees that fell were outside the right-of-way and caused quite bit of damage.”
About 2,200 workers responded to put Cleco customers back online. Many of those workers were from elsewhere and supplied in a mutual aid agreement with other utility companies, he said.
“We start planning for a hurricane a year ahead of time,” he said.
Every Cleco employee has a storm assignment, he said.
The effort includes washing the clothes of the workers. “We have a team that comes in and brings everything to the washaterias,” he said.
The crews stayed at the Word Ministries building in Eunice and at the casino in Kinder, he said.
Besides the laundry, the workers are provided food service, he said.
Complicating the recovery work is the COVID-19 situation that limited two people to a vehicle and other restrictions, he said.
But one of the biggest hurdles for the workers were the mosquitoes, he said.
After a storm strikes, “We have people go out and do the engineering studies. They tell us how many broken poles are down. They tell us how much wire is down,” he said.
“The first facilites to get the power is hospitals, nursing homes, your police stations, fire stations, sewer lift stations — anything that is critical to the well-being of the community,” he said.
The scope of the task facing Cleco was the 360 miles of wire down.
“If you take a 360-mile radius fro Eunice as the crow flies that would get you to Destin, Florida...” he said.
Bergeron was accompanied by Mike Francis, of Crowley, a state Public Service Commission member, and Van Reed, of St. Landry Parish Government Preparedness Emergency.
Reed said Slemco estimated the recovery cost from Laura to its system was about $800 million.
Francis explained his job as commissioner. “Our job is to do safe reliable and affordable electricity.”
Louisiana has the lowest electric rates in the nation, he said. “I’m proud of that. I didn’t do that. It was already there when I came four years ago. My job is not to mess it up,” he said.
Francis said the PSC regulates land lines for phone service, but does not oversee internet service, however, he said he is working on issues concerning that service.
“Internet service now is about as important as food and water and electricity. It is just a way of live,” he said.

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