As the now tropical depression Ida makes its weakened way northward, cable operators with systems in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama continue to assess the damage from the storm, which made landfall as a category 4 hurricane on Aug. 29, causing widespread flooding and costing at least four lives in the area.
Hurricane Ida made landfall late Sunday morning near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, packing sustained winds of up to 150 mph and torrential rains that caused widespread flooding. About 1 million homes in Louisiana are without power for “the foreseeable future,” according to some reports.
According to website PowerOutage.us, more than 1 million homes in Louisiana and nearly 45,000 homes in Mississippi were without power on Tuesday. While many Louisiana residents fled the state prior to the storm, Gov. John Bel Edwards urged them to stay away until power could be restored. In addition to the flooding and property damage in the aftermath of the hurricane, a punishing heatwave has gripped southeast Louisiana, making an already dangerous situation even more so.
According to the New York Times, at a press conference earlier today, Gov. Bel Edwards urged residents who have left the state to stay away "until the office of emergency preparedness tells you it's ready to receive you."
For cable operators, the first stage is in assessing the damage to plant and equipment, which at the time appears to be minimal. While many customers are without service because of power outages, most operators have set up WiFi hotspots in public locations to help residents stay connected with family, friends and emergency personnel.
Cox Communications has the largest exposure in New Orleans, which was hit hard by the storm and subsequent flooding. Cox personnel are assessing the damage in the city and have dispatched additional personnel from across the country to provide assistance.
Cox spokesman Todd Smith said in an email message that the assessment process began on Monday, which requires visually inspecting thousands of miles of plant and pieces of equipment below, on, or above the ground near power lines. Hundreds of personnel have arrived in southern Louisiana to help in the restoration efforts and as of Tuesday, repair work has been completed on the fiber backbone near Donaldsonville in Baton Rouge and repairs to two critical network facilities in St. Charles Parish near New Orleans continue.
"The safety of our employees and customers is our first concern," Smith continued in an email message. "Despite the fact that many Cox employees had evacuated outside of the Louisiana area and cell service is compromised, all teammates are safe and accounted for at this time."
Charter Communications, which has a limited footprint in Louisiana, said its systems in Hammond, Slidell and Thibodaux were hit hardest, while its operation in Opelousas, toward the center of the state, is largely business as usual.
“Given the massive loss of power to local residents, businesses and to our network, the number of impacted customers is changing continuously,” Charter spokesman Rich Ruggiero said in an email message. “We have teams in the field assessing damage to our fiber-optic network in areas where it has been deemed safe for us to do so, though there remain many areas we cannot access yet due to flooding, impassable roads and downed power lines.”
At Comcast, which has customers in Houma and La Place, Louisiana that were impacted by the hurricane, spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said the company is assessing damage, although power outages, flooding and debris are still blocking access to some key locations.
“Most of the service interruptions are due to commercial power outages. For the majority of our customers, services should return after power is restored, and access to damaged facilities and downed lines has been cleared,” Moyer said in an email.
Moyer said Comcast is making its Xfinity WiFi hotspots available for free to help residents and emergency personnel stay connected throughout Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. The service is available to non-Xfinity customers in those impacted areas as well and Comcast said it is directing people to its homepage and Twitter handle (@ComcastSouth) for regular updates and to learn more about its WiFi hotspots.
Cable One spokeswoman Patricia Niemann said that all of her company’s associates in the impacted areas are safe and accounted for, although five experienced damage to their homes. Those employees will be able to tap into a Natural Disaster Fund that was first established during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and later used during the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado and Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana in 2017, to ensure they receive financial assistance to make repairs to their damaged homes.
Niemann said that Cable One service is nearly 98% restored through its impacted service territory. The hardest hit system was in Belle Chasse, Louisiana (located near New Orleans on the west bank of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish). Local officials there say power will not be restored for several weeks.
Smaller operators affected by the storm can also access and share information through industry group ACA Connects. In a message to its membership Monday, ACA Connects CEO Matt Polka said ACA is there to help operators find important industry connections and links to resources via its members lounge at its website.
“At times like these, I recognize you may most need help with finding crews to rebuild, getting needed supplies, or jumping in to meet community priorities,” Polka wrote. “Please don’t ever hesitate to call on us if we CAN endeavor to help connect you with emergency response resources on the ground that may be able to assist you in any of these ways!”
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Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.