Within hours after the most devastating hurricane to ever hit the country, electric companies from West Virginia to Michigan began rushing crews to help restore power to more than 1.1 million Entergy customers.
While thousands of residents have had to evacuate their homes in southeast Louisiana, Entergy is busy constructing make-shift lodging for thousands of workers that will call Louisiana their home for the next several weeks or even months.
Where once stood empty parking lots are now bustling Tent Cities with 24- hour activity.
The major staging areas in New Orleans are at the Belle Promenade Mall in Marrero, The Pontchartrain Center in Kenner, the Boomtown Casino in Harvey and Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzalez. The Pontchartrain Center houses between 1500 and 2000 workers but could increase to 4000 by the time the lights are turned back on. The other centers house anywhere from 500 to 1500 utility workers.
Workers sleep in cooled tents or permanent structures that hold several hundred cots. Mobile shower trailers are provided. Caterers serve thousands of hot meals a day and thousands of gallons of coffee.
Some workers are staying in hotels, college dormitories, school gymnasiums, and churches.
"It's like running a hotel," said Matt Flott, Entergy's staging manager at the Belle Promenade Mall staging area while driving his golf cart over the multi-acre compound. "There are a lot of people here working long hours to make sure the workers have good meals and a nice and safe place to sleep and shower. We're trying to keep them as comfortable as possible."
Site managers, like Flott and Joe Catalanotto located at The Pontchartrain Center, estimate it takes hundreds of support personnel to keep the Tent Cities operating.
Caterers are up at 4 a.m. to cook breakfast for crews to eat by 6 a.m. As soon as breakfast is served, box lunches are prepared for the workers to eat in the field, and then it is time to start planning dinner.
Another daunting logistical task includes providing diesel fuel and gasoline to power vehicles and equipment used for the restoration. It's not uncommon for a staging area to receive a shipment of 20,000 gallons in one day. Vehicles are refueled at night so that they will be ready to roll the next morning. "Fueling the trucks is an elaborate process," said Catalanotto. "It involves 20 people and is really something to see."
A medical care trailer staffed by paramedics is also available at the staging areas. Paramedics typically treat several dozen workers a day. Common ailments include heat exhaustion, bee stings, rashes, abrasions, poison ivy and head colds. More serious cases are sent to local hospitals. The paramedics also provide tetanus inoculations on request.
Safety specialists are a constant presence at the staging areas to help ensure the safety of workers on and off the job.
Using staging areas is part of Entergy's emergency response plan.
"We've used the site in the past for several smaller storms," said Catalanotto, "but nothing as big as this."