When Hurricane Ida pounded South Louisiana Electric Cooperative Association a year ago, it was the worst natural disaster ever to hit the Houma-based co-op.
The Category 4 storm, which fell just short of a Category 5 classification, destroyed the co-op’s headquarters, wrecked much of its electric infrastructure and caused an estimated $128 million in damage, a sum that will likely grow.
“Ida was costlier and left more damage than all of the hurricanes in the past 30 years combined,” said SLECA General Manager Joe Ticheli. “Just to put it into perspective, our worst hurricane before Ida was Gustav in 2008. That storm cost us $9.5 million.”
So, when the NRECA organizers of last month’s Interact Conference in New Orleans were seeking a community service project, they looked no further than SLECA, located about an hour away. Co-op benefits administrators and human resource professionals who attended the conference were eager to take action.
“The opportunity to help a member of our co-op family gave our conference tradition of serving the host community a very special meaning,” said Peter Baxter, NRECA’s senior vice president for Insurance and Financial Services. “The SLECA team has worked tirelessly to support their community, and this was our opportunity to lend a hand and make their lives a little easier as they continue to rebuild.”
The surge of co-op help couldn’t come soon enough for SLECA employees.
“We’re still in storm restoration mode,” said Penny Hebert, SLECA’s benefits administrator, who sheltered with Ticheli and six others inside the Houma headquarters during Ida when the building’s roof caved in.
SLECA has since juggled running its daily business out of trailers and nearby community rooms, dealing with insurance adjusters for reimbursements and consulting with engineering and design firms on a new headquarters. In between it all, employees are relocating from the trailers into temporary headquarters, where they will work until their new building is complete in three to five years.
Amid sweltering heat and humidity, 100 Interact Conference volunteers split up into two groups, with half of them helping SLECA prepare for its move into temporary modular buildings in Houma, and the other half pitching in at a church in nearby Dulac that has doubled as a relief distribution center despite being heavily damaged.
The outpouring of support humbled SLECA and its community, said Ticheli. “There’s so much to do after a Category 5 storm even after 12 months, but people have forgotten that fact,” he said. “But I have to tell you that NRECA and the co-op volunteers attending their conference have not.”
Watch a video of the recovery efforts below.