Power still out after Gustav

Torrential rains and the threat of tornadoes in the wake of Hurricane Gustav slowed attempts by utility companies to rebuild broken transmission and distribution systems that have left nearly 1.2 million customers without power.

Meanwhile, oil and natural gas production, virtually shut off in the Gulf of Mexico for the past several days in anticipation of Gustav, has resumed at low levels, the U.S. Minerals Management Service said Wednesday.

Utility giant Entergy Corp., with 1.2 million customers in Louisiana, reported 742,832 outages Wednesday morning and said outages expanded into Arkansas overnight, where 66,043 customers lost power. It said about 40 percent of its transmission lines and 27 percent of its substations were out of service in the state.

Counting Mississippi, the Department of Energy reported 1.3 million outages in the three states.

Utilities won't say when the bulk of power might return, but estimate it may be weeks in some instances.

Based on operators' reports, the Minerals Management Service said about 4 percent of oil production had been restored, and natural gas output stood at about 8 percent.

Some companies with platforms in the western Gulf of Mexico said they'd restarted production in the past day.

The U.S. Gulf Coast is home to nearly half the nation's refining capacity, while offshore, the Gulf accounts for about 25 percent of domestic oil production and 15 percent of natural gas output.

Anadarko Petroleum Corp., the largest independent deep-water producer in the Gulf of Mexico, said Wednesday it had resumed production at two of its eight operated platforms, though those facilities were not in the storm's path.

Exxon Mobil Corp. said Wednesday it was returning operations crews to platforms and other offshore facilities not in Gustav's path, and assessment teams to those in the storm's immediate path.

Exxon Mobil also halted operations at two refineries in Louisiana because of Gustav. The company said it was unable to provide a restart schedule for either plant.

The status of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, a critical link in the nation's energy infrastructure, was not known. Any prolonged closure of LOOP, as it's called, could severely disrupt crude imports and their shipment to refineries. LOOP is located about 18 miles south of Grand Isle, La.

Of the 31 major natural gas processing plants in the region, 16 that had been shut down have reported no damage and are expected to start up when the flow of gas resumes.

Associated Press Writer John Poretto contributed.