September 24, 2008
Power and water to the people update

If you're a CenterPoint customer and you're still without power, the utility says don't rely on their ZIP code map to tell when you'll get it back.

Last week CenterPoint issued a map and timetable projecting that 80 percent of power in 69 ZIP codes would be restored by Monday night. But Tuesday morning the company's Web site showed CenterPoint hit that target in only 25 of those ZIPs.

Tuesday afternoon the company issued a new map that appeared to push back restoration to Sunday for a wide swath of Houston.

But late Tuesday, company spokesman Floyd LeBlanc said the company was backing off that map and trying to refine it for today. The company also said it was pulling the map off its Web site.

"The problem is people are taking our projections, which are the best we can give with the knowledge we have, and taking them as expectations. If we say 80 percent restored, that means 20 percent not restored but everybody assumes they'll be in that 80 percent," LeBlanc said.

"What's getting forgotten is that we told people it would take two to three weeks to get everybody back on and that's still true. In fact, it looks like we'll get most people back on Sunday which is the two-week mark."


[Tom Standish, CenterPoint's group president of regional operations], when pressed about why CenterPoint had not met Monday's ZIP code goals, said some areas had more damage than originally thought.

"Some areas had less and they came on quicker. We hope we didn't mislead anybody, but that was our best estimate at the time.

"Those people who have suffered damage on their property at the very end of the line will have to wait to get it picked up," he said.

I suppose I have some sympathy for CenterPoint. They have reached the broader goal of "50 to 75 percent restorations" as of Monday, and in fact are at 74% now. Our friend Andrea finally got her power back yesterday, much to her relief. I can believe that some areas are harder for them to deal with than others. It's just that, as anyone who's worked customer service knows, if you set an expectation, people won't like it if you fall short of it. Either that ZIP code map was a bad idea, or they should have given themselves more slack with it. In any event, they're now saying most of the remaining people will be back on by Sunday. Good luck with that.

This is a more alarming problem.

A quarter of a million people in the Houston region were without running water Tuesday, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates more than 2,500 public water systems in the 10-county region hammered by Hurricane Ike.

Commission officials did not know about another 600,000 people because they have been unable to communicate with those utilities in the wake of the storm.

The result is hundreds of thousands of people who cannot bathe, use the bathroom, or even cook nearly two weeks after they lost access to running water.

Restoring it may prove complicated. The problem has myriad causes, including power outages and severe infrastructure damage in coastal areas. Some public water systems, which Texas regulators require to continue pumping in spite of power outages, have failed to do so, according to residents they serve and state officials.

Geez. I confess, I hadn't given this much thought since the city of Houston lifted its boil order. This isn't just an inconvenience, it's a public health issue, and I daresay there aren't thousands of workers coming in from other states to help deal with it. I don't know what to say about this.

Here's a traffic light update.

Traffic signals at about 1,200 Houston area intersections were not yet working Tuesday but should all have at least a flashing red light by the end of next week, said Mike Marcotte, the city's director of public works and engineering.

"I've been amazed with the courtesy our drivers have been showing," Marcotte said. "Our biggest issue at this point is going out and making repairs on the signals as well as waiting for power to be restored."

Getting all the city's traffic lights functioning at pre-Hurricane Ike levels could take until November, Marcotte said.

In some cases, it is not just a matter of getting the power restored, but also repairing equipment pummeled by Ike's winds and rain, he said.

At least 90 percent of the city's 2,500 intersections with traffic lights sustained damage from the storm, according to the city.

There are some intersections I've seen where the lights are working, but there's damage that will need to be fixed. At Studewood and White Oak, in the northbound direction on Studewood, for instance, the green light on one of the signals has broken off. It's not causing any problems, since the green on the other signal facing that direction still works, but it will eventually have to be fixed.

All across Houston, informal rules seem to take hold at various intersections where the power is out.

Generally, the first car to stop is the first one to proceed, but in other instances, it seemed to be the biggest vehicle went first, or the motorist most willing to risk a dent.

Um, aren't there supposed to be actual, formal rules for this situation. As in, if you don't follow those rules you get ticketed for causing the accident that results? Where I come from, the first vehicle to stop has the right of way. If vehicles approaching at perpendicular directions arrive at the same time, the vehicle on the right has the right of way. This was in the manual and was on the test. Do they do it differently in Texas, or was this just sloppily written?

Here's the updated list of HISD schools that will open Thursday, which includes Travis Elementary. Heights mommies rejoice.

And finally, in the good news department, more HOV lanes will be open today, and SciGuy says the historical odds are in our favor for no more tropical storm activity this year. Whew!

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 24, 2008 to Hurricane Katrina

For more lame excuses, CenterPoint can study the Federal Reserve and investment bankers.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on September 24, 2008 2:30 PM
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