Legislators push for answers from utility, internet providers

Hurricane Ida
Amanda Shaw Hurricane Ida Benefit Concert

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — It has now been three weeks since Hurricane Ida hit southeast Louisiana and there are many questions still about why some critical services failed in the days after the storm. Legislators called providers to the Capitol for answers.

The Joint Commerce Committee heard testimony from both utility and internet providers on their recovery efforts from both Hurricane Laura a year ago and Hurricane Ida.

In the days after Ida left the state, cell phone service for AT&T users was offline. Even the state-contracted emergency service SafetyNet did not work which forced 911 centers to set up alternate numbers. This greatly slowed search and rescue efforts.

“So if AT&T can’t provide it, maybe the state would do an emergency contract to make sure that public safety officials get the communication equipment they need,” Sen. Karen Carter-Peterson of New Orleans said.

AT&T only sent a lobbyist to answer basic questions about the failure of service, which greatly upset lawmakers.

“So now I have a cell phone with AT&T that doesn’t work, I have a police portable that doesn’t work, and I have people in their attics trying to save their lives and I can’t even communicate with the levee district to see who we need to evacuate,” Rep. Bryan Fontenot of Thibodaux said.

Representatives from Cox and Entergy spoke about getting their services back online. Sen. Cleo Fields and two other legislators questioned Cox about issuing a credit for the days people were without services due to the storm.

Cox representatives said if someone has an outage for over seven days they will automatically get a credit for those days. But if it is under seven days a customer must call in to get that credit. Sen. Fields said it should be automatic for anyone impacted by the storm.

Legislators pushed Entergy about how they are going to harden the grid to prevent so many poles from having to be replaced after each storm. They also urged them to have better communication since the power map was inaccurate on the restoration efforts. The representative said it is something they are looking at for the future and said the reason the map had discrepancies was due to connectivity and the widespread damage.

Rep. Tanner Magee, who represents Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, said there are still people living in the rubble of their homes or tents with no date in sight of when FEMA will have temporary housing available.

“We’re hearing from Lake Charles that they spent a year without temporary housing. I don’t know how that is anything less than a sort of humanitarian crisis,” Rep. Magee said.

He also said legislation needs to be created to better deal with insurance, utility services, and recovery as these powerful storms appear to be a more common occurrence.

Over a year later, Lake Charles is still working to get temporary housing approved even though it will run out in a few short months. Mayor Nic Hunter shared his frustration and disappointment that more supplemental aid has yet to be approved, but the Louisiana delegation has made a push for more aid and the president has been in favor.

Legislators had many more questions for Entergy and AT&T as well as other service providers so they plan to have them here back at the Capitol sometime next month.

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