Approximately 2400 workers, including Cleco Corp. employees and personnel from other utilities and contractors, returned power to 136,000 Cleco customers who were affected when Hurricane Rita made landfall Saturday, Sept. 24. Rita, a Category 3 storm, hit all of Cleco's service territory, including the area north of Lake Ponchartrain, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina just 27 days earlier.
"Just as we were wrapping up the longest storm restoration in our history, Rita came through hitting our entire service territory," said Michael Madison, president and CEO of Cleco Corp. "Katrina was a more severe storm even though it affected customers in only two of our parishes, St. Tammany and Washington. However, Rita was much more widespread, requiring a 12-day restoration effort."
The storm knocked out power to approximately half of Cleco's customers. The hardest hit areas were in Beauregard, Vernon and Allen parishes. Crews are still working to restore power to a small number of customers in the more remote areas of the company's rural service territory. This effort could take days depending upon accessibility and the extent of the damage.
"As we work to restore power to the last customers, we are estimating that Hurricane Rita will cost the company approximately $50 million," said Madison. "Cleco's liquidity is adequate to fund the restoration costs of both Katrina and Rita.
"We have received regulatory authorization to amortize storm recovery operating expenses for both storms over 10 years in order to minimize the impact to the company," said Madison. "We are currently discussing cost recovery options."
Madison added, "Rita's devastation to our communities was great; however, they pulled together and helped each other and our workers. Our customers will never know how their patience and acts of kindness encouraged the teams working to restore power.
"Our employees continue to make me proud. I am in awe of their commitment to our customers and their professionalism. They have been working for more than a month straight," Madison said. "And just as our employees have stayed the course, so have our contract and mutual assistance teams. Some of these workers have been on the road for several months, working storms in Florida before coming to help us. We will never forget how they helped us during our time of need."