As Hurricane Ike Slammed into Galveston Island, Off the Gulf Coast of Texas, it was nearly twice the size of a typical hurricane with a diameter of approximately 600 miles. The eye of the storm itself was 60 miles in diameter. Because of the sheer size of Ike — almost the size of the state of Texas — it stirred up most of the Gulf of Mexico, adding to its destructive power. This produced a massive storm surge ranging from 10 ft to 15 ft above normal tides, stretching 170 miles east from Galveston, Texas, to most of coastal Louisiana.
Hurricane Ike made landfall on Galveston Island at 2:10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13, with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, just 1 mph short of a Category 3 storm. By 8 a.m., CNN reported that Ike was centered 15 miles east-northeast of the Houston Intercontinental Airport with sustained winds near 100 mph and was moving slowly to the north and east. The National Weather Service's Hydrometeorological Prediction Center reported that Houston's rainfall totals from Ike ranged anywhere from 9 inches to 16 inches.
Once the hurricane winds began in the Houston/Galveston area, they continued unabated for nearly 12 hours. Power outages were caused by flooding, downed trees and airborne debris. The Bolivar Peninsula, located just north of Galveston, was hit by Ike's front-right quadrant, which is the part that carries peak winds and maximum storm surge. As a result, almost 80% of the buildings on the peninsula were destroyed. Texas-New Mexico Power (TNMP) reported that roughly 113,000 of its customers were without power as a result of Ike. The utility also reported that 91 out of 92 distribution circuits were out, more than 800 poles were down and nearly 400 distribution transformers were destroyed in the Gulf Coast.
IN THE DARK, CUSTOMERS WAIT
By Sept. 19, just six days after Hurricane Ike made landfall, the Houston Chronicle stated, "Texas is still experiencing the largest blackout in the history of the state." On that same day, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reported that power had been restored to 1.79 million Texas utility customers, but that 1.53 million were still without power.
According to the DOE's Situation Report series, CenterPoint Energy lost about 96% of its customer base, as Ike took out 2.1 million CenterPoint Energy customers in a matter of hours, delivering devastating damage throughout most of CenterPoint's 5000-sq-mile service territory in metropolitan Houston. Sam Houston Cooperative and Mid-South Synergy Cooperative had 100% of their customers lose power. About 99% of Entergy Texas' customers lost power, as did TNMP's.
CenterPoint Energy reported that 1129 distribution circuits out of a total of 1492 were out of service. Although the utility has more than a million wooden distribution poles on its system, it only had to replace 6400 poles in its restoration effort. CenterPoint Energy also had 66 transmission lines out of service, which led to eight substations being out of service. Although the storm destroyed 60 wooden transmission poles, all of the utility's steel and concrete structures survived.
Oncor reported that roughly 155,000 customers were without power in its service territory. Entergy Texas reported that approximately 390,000 (99%) of its customers were in the dark, with 278 of 312 substations and 183 of 187 transmission lines in Texas out of service and 37 transmission lines and 51 substations in Louisiana out of service.
IKE CONTINUES NORTH
When Ike moved inland, its hurricane-velocity winds continued as far north as Kentucky and produced driving rain far into New England. The storm's rainfall accumulations continued their record-setting pace, flooding the Midwest. After Ike exited Texas, it left behind 2.5 to 3 million customers without power. Louisiana had an additional 200,000 customers without service. But that wasn't the end of the destruction. More than 3 million were without electricity in the Midwest as the remnants of Ike moved to the Northeast.
Ohio was the hardest hit with more than 2.6 million customers without power at the high point of the storm. Dayton Power reported outages of more than 200,000 customers. American Electric Power had approximately 400,000 customers in Ohio in the dark. More than 800,000 FirstEnergy customers lost power.
Duke Energy reported that more than 900,000 of its Ohio customers were affected, but more than 310,000 of its customers in Indiana lost power, too. With more than a million customers in the dark, Duke Energy had a problem. The utility had already sent 300 personnel in a convoy of line trucks and support vehicles to the Gulf Coast utilities to assist in storm restoration. Who could have guessed Ike's influence would reach so far inland that Duke would have to recall its crews to respond to damage in its own service territory?
Kentucky saw as many as 600,000 customers without power at its peak. In the Louisville area alone, there were almost 300,000 customers affected. Ameren Illinois had more than 49,000 customers out of service. FirstEnergy reported almost 190,000 customers in Pennsylvania without power. Duquesne Power had about 100,000 in the dark in southwestern Pennsylvania, while Allegheny Power reported almost 100,000 customers without power in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Ike's north-by-northeast trek left a trail of flooding, with high winds knocking down trees and power outages through 15 states and part of Canada. A DOE report cited almost 4 million customers without power. Mainstream news reports placed the number around 7.5 million or higher. The difference in figures can be attributed to reporting on customer meters versus population. Whichever figure is used, the amount is extremely large and covers a lot of geography.
TNMP estimates its Ike restoration costs between $30 million and $35 million. Oncor estimates its restoration costs at $20 million to $25 million. CenterPoint Energy estimates its restoration will cost about $750 million. And, Entergy Corp. estimated damage from Ike at $525 million to $625 million and Hurricane Gustav, which had hit its Louisiana service territory on Sept. 1, 2008, at $475 million to $575 million, for a total of approximately $1 billion to $1.2 billion.
Ike has been classified as the third-most-destructive storm to hit the U.S. coast, ranking just behind Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Andrew.
MOBILE SUBSTATION KEY TO GALVESTON REBUILD
Looking down from the bridge between Pelican Island and Galveston Island in Texas is an expansive view of CenterPoint Energy's West Galveston Substation. Unfortunately, this substation did not fare well at the hands of Hurricane Ike. The substation had been flooded by an 8-ft storm surge and remained in saltwater for eight hours. It was rendered inoperable.
Mike Maxwell, a CenterPoint senior service consultant, put it this way: "Saltwater got into every control cabinet on every piece of equipment, including the control house. Relays, meters, wiring — they were all ruined."
Quanta Services, a national line-contracting company headquartered in Houston, Texas, had drawn in crews from around the United States to perform both distribution and transmission work. PAR Electrical Contractors Inc., a Quanta line-contracting company headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, was working with CenterPoint Energy employees to bring this flooded substation back to life by connecting a mobile substation in the now-dry substation yard. The mobile station had been moved inland before Ike hit and was moved back to the substation after the storm passed. While CenterPoint Energy crews were checking out the mobile substation, the transmission line crews were tapping into the transmission line, installing jumpers to feed the mobile substation.
Bill Smeltzer, a PAR safety coordinator, reported, "PAR Electric had roughly 300 employees in the area working for CenterPoint Energy, with about 82 guys out of the Denver region. The Denver convoy was roughly 3 miles long, and they had people cheering them on the entire way to Houston."