Entergy Corp, Mississippi Power and Alabama Power continue to struggle with the devastation to their energy networks caused by the passage of hurricane Katrina.

While the utility companies have met with some success, the very size of the region still underwater in Louisiana is severely limiting access to the damaged transmission network. With thousands of people now feared dead and widespread looting and unrest in urban areas it may be many months before repairs are effected. To date Entergy has restored power to nearly 334,000 customers across Louisiana and Mississippi while nearly 758,000 remained without electrical service.

Katrina crippled Entergy’s electrical system within the city of New Orleans and extensively damaged the electrical system throughout Louisiana and Mississippi, while brackish water still flooding into New Orleans is expected to significantly impact substation restoration, delay damage assessment and restoration. Progress continues, but the company expects a long and difficult restoration in the aftermath.

More line men are arriving from out of state and even from overseas but the scale of the devastation continues to present significant obstacles while many neighbouring utility service areas are also struggling to return electrical service to consumers. The mass evacuation from the metropolitan New Orleans area has put extreme pressure on all housing options and fuel availability, with crews in some of the stricken areas sleeping in their trucks. Fuel trucks are being directed by federal and state agencies to support public emergency needs, leaving restoration crews short of fuel in some areas. In addition, communications services, including telephone, cellular and the company’s internal radio communications system, are stressed with high traffic and the loss of some towers.

More than 1,000 km of lines are on the ground across Mississippi Power’s system with at least 4,500 poles needing replacement. Alabama Power has nearly 200,000 customers without power across the state, down from a peak of more than half a million.

The number of reported Entergy customer outages peaked in Mississippi and Louisiana at nearly 1.1 million and Entergy’s transmission system still has close to 100 lines and a similar number of substations out of service The company plans to focus its efforts on areas where it is not inhibited by flood waters or other obstacles but Entergy acknowledges that the severe damage caused by Katrina will require months to rebuild.

Meanwhile, Congress intends to cut short its summer recess to hold an emergency session to approve a $10 billion supplemental emergency spending measure for relief efforts and restoration of infrastructure in the three hurricane-stricken Gulf coastal states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Funds will be provided to help restore electricity and to help the oil and natural gas industry get back on its feet after the hurricane left more than 10% of US refining capacity off line in its key Gulf of Mexico oil producing area. Indeed supply shocks are expected to continue to apply upward pressure to oil prices which have broken the $70 a barrel mark.

The Minerals Management Service reports that 79% of gas production and 90% of oil production are out of service in the Gulf and the Department of Energy has approved a request for a loan of 6 million barrels of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Entergy has restored power to six of nine Louisiana oil refineries that had been without power due to Katrina.