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As clean-up drags on, capital area looks ahead to the next storm

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BATON ROUGE - It's often a tough job to clean up following a hurricane. Homeowners, business owners, and crews are navigating downed trees and power lines. In Friday's 183 Days of Hurricane Season piece, 2 On Your Side's Brittany Weiss tells us what's at stake for people responding after a storm and whether an ice storm may have prepared them for the next big storm.

Last year may have been a rough year for everyone. While the world navigated a pandemic, Louisiana faced the cone of uncertainty six times. Hurricane Laura hit the hardest in the southwestern part of the state as a category-four hurricane.

The aftermath has been devastating. It left people in the dark for weeks, utility poles snapped in half, trees and other debris were everywhere.

John Hawkins, vice president of distribution operations for Entergy in Louisiana, says 2020 was a very busy year.

"We're constantly challenged with different types of weather events. So for us we always stay in a state of readiness," Hawkins said.

With each storm, utility crews from around the country are called in to assist, and last year they were faced with a grim picture.

"We have a lot of dedicated men and women working for Entergy who really lay it all on the line for our customers," Hawkins said.

During Hurricane Laura, damage to Entergy's system included 1,800 transmission structures, 12,000 damaged poles, 4,200 transformers that were damaged or destroyed, and 27,000 spans of distribution wire damaged or destroyed. At its peak, there were 270,000 people in the dark. Entergy says the power was 90% restored within three weeks.

Two other storms, Delta and Zeta brought category-two winds. While the infrastructure damage numbers were much lower, there were more people without power.

"Delta, I think we were 90% restored within three days and Zeta, four days to be at 90% restored," Hawkins said.

Long before the storms hit, Entergy says it's preparing. Teams are looking over damage models trying to predict what to expect based on the weather forecast.

With all those storms, it makes you wonder if they in any way prepared Baton Rouge for the February ice storm.

"I wouldn't say they prepare you--there's a lot of vegetation," Hawkins said. "When you think about Baton Rouge, there's a lot of tree canopy there. So whether it's the ice or the hurricanes we always tend to get some tree damage and a lot of tree damage."

Baton Rouge knows what that's like. It takes a little longer to clean up tree damage than it does to restore electricity.

"Each one of those events we ask ourselves one fundamental question: how can we get the debris up more efficiently and faster?" East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kelvin Hill said.

In July 2019, Hurricane Barry came rolling through the Baton Rouge area as a category one storm. Baton Rouge collected almost 35,000 cubic yards of debris. Nearly 57,000 cubic yards of debris was collected following Hurricane Delta last year, and it took the parish about eight weeks to clean up. During the 2021 ice storm, about 72,000 cubic yards of debris were cleared in about four weeks. That's about 22 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

"One of the things we did do to increase capacity was to suspend recycling for a week and take those 15 trucks that normally pick up recycling during the week and put them on storm debris," Hill said.

Looking forward to the next storm, Baton Rouge says it's in good shape and has removed about 5,000 trees that were at risk of falling.

Both the city-parish and Entergy say now is the time to take care of your personal property.

"If there is any trimming that you personally need to do on your property, you should be doing that now," Hawkins said.

Parishes and utility companies know there's always room for improvement. It's why they say they're constantly looking at the next time they'll need to react to an emergency.

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