A Month to Remember

The resiliency of the electrical business shines through the utter devastation along the Gulf Coast.

Electrical distributors, electrical manufacturers and independent manufacturers' reps are on the front lines in the recovery efforts following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and donations and truckloads of electrical construction materials are pouring into the region from the United States and beyond.

In his research for Electrical Wholesaling's cover story this month, “Preparing for the Worst” (page 18), Contributing Writer Douglas Chandler spoke with several storm veterans who were dumbstruck by the fury and devastation of these storms. Their companies have supplied electrical products in many other rebuilding efforts, but they say the scope of the job ahead after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is in a class by itself.

Think about the awesome challenges that confronted Entergy, the electric utility, as it restored power to the region. Days after getting electrical service back to more than 80 percent of the 1.1 million homes and businesses that lost power because of Hurricane Katrina, the utility was faced with the wrath of Hurricane Rita as it swept across the Gulf of Mexico toward the Texas coast. Despite pressing 24/7 for several weeks in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, Entergy managed to redeploy its resources and have more than 7,000 line workers and support workers ready on the Texas coast to repair damage from Hurricane Rita. The logistics necessary to move that many workers and that much equipment to prepare for another storm are truly mind-boggling.

In the months to come, Electrical Wholesaling will be reporting on many other examples of exemplary service, and on the efforts of Gulf Coast electrical companies to rebuild their businesses. Few companies got hit harder than Armstrong Supply Co., New Orleans. The distributor's headquarters location was ruined by the flood. When Scott Armstrong, company owner and president, was finally allowed back in the building three weeks after the storm, he found “everything below eye level” was ruined, according to a posting on the company's Web site. His company's experiences were chronicled in a gripping Wall Street Journal report last month. Almost four weeks after the storm, the company's mail and phone service were still limited, and its only Web access was through Armstrong's laptop computer.

I was also struck by a plea for help from a New Orleans independent manufacturers' rep. His son and his son's family were among the many Gulf Coast residents who lost their homes.

In an e-mail to friends in the industry who asked how they could help, Jean Paul de la Houssaye, principal, C&D Agency, Covington, La., said, “I know from personal observation that my son's family of five is in need. Their rental house suffered severe damage during Hurricane Katrina and they are now homeless. Most of their belongings were damaged and what was not is now in storage. They are living with friends in Baton Rouge while looking for suitable replacement housing in the Covington area.”

De la Houssaye set up a fund for his son and his family. Donations can be sent to: The Michael de la Houssaye Family Hurricane Relief Fund, C&D Agency, 70447 Riverside Drive, Covington, LA 70433. You can reach the agency by phone at (985) 892-7913 or by e-mail at [email protected].

In the grueling weeks ahead, long past the days when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita fade from the headlines and public consciousness, the electrical industry will press on. It's part of the industry's DNA to be in the game deep and early in any rebuilding process. Think about every light that flickers on in a New Orleans neighborhood, each motor that powers up in a Gulf Coast factory, or each air-conditioning unit that finally turns on in a home. Without someone in the electrical wholesaling industry doing his or her job during the recovery efforts, none of it would happen.

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