River Parishes dodge bullet

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 30, 1998

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / September 30, 1998

LAPLACE -Emergency planners across southeast Louisiana, south of Lake Pontchartrain, blessed their lucky stars that Hurricane Georges angled toward Biloxi, Miss., instead making a direct hit on New Orleans as waspredicted Sunday morning.

Mandatory evacuations were called for St. Charles Parish and for low-lying areas of St. John the Baptist Parish, such as Manchac and the PeavineRoad areas. The remainder of the River Parishes were under a voluntaryevacuation.

There were no serious problems reported in St. Charles Parish, as 75 to 80percent of the population heeded the evacuation order and cleared out.

“The vast majority did evacuate,” noted Kerny Savoie of the parish’s Emergency Operations Center. “They really heeded the warning andresponded.”The danger to St. Charles Parish, in particular, was very real. Savoie saidif Hurricane Georges had stayed on its original path and struck Louisiana west of the Mississippi River’s mouth, all of St. Charles Parish would havedeluged with at least 10 feet of water, sparing perhaps only the Hahnville area.

The east bank of St. Charles Parish, especially vulnerable to LakePontchartrain, would have had 15 feet of water, from St. Rose to Norco,Savoie added.

“It’d have been a pretty bad flood for awhile,” he concluded. “We’d havebeen in real trouble.”As it was, only downed tree limbs and small trees resulted. Capt. PatrickYoes of the St. Charles Sheriff’s Office said some people even took outlawn chairs during the height of the storm to watch the effects of the wind.

“We doubled our shifts and put on twice as many patrols, including 11 National Guard military police,” Yoes continued.

There were some burglaries reported and one arrest from a business burglary was made, Yoes added, as the parish was buffeted by 60 mph gusts but comparatively small amounts of rainfall.

“It was a real unusual storm,” Yoes said. “Just real, real windy.”A shelter was prepared at Harry Hurst Middle School in case deputies had to take shelter at the height of the storm, but that wasn’t necessary.

“We had the trial run two weeks ago, so everyone knew what to do,” Yoes concluded.

St. John Parish Civil Defense director Bertram Madere said, “Basically,everything was flawless.”He added a meeting was held Tuesday morning to review problems, the main one pointed out being one of communication. Madere said theinterstate could have been open Monday evening but its opening was held off until later.

“We had no problems with flooding,” Madere continued, and said the flood- prone intersection of U.S. Highway 51 and Interstate 55 was floodedbriefly when Georges came ashore.

An hour later, though, the north winds came around and the roadway cleared.

Everything had already been pumped down as much as possible beforehand, Madere said, so the parish was as prepared as possible.

John Adams of Entergy said the St. John/St. James region had about 6,000customers without power Sunday morning, but all were back online by Monday evening.

As evacuees hurried back into the area Tuesday, interstates 10 and 55, as well as Airline Highway, were choked, while Louisiana state troopers attempted to keep the traffic moving.

Kevin Cannatella of Troop B said he’d been operating on 12 hours’ sleep since Saturday, but he was about to get off work Tuesday at 6 p.m.While the River Parishes escaped the wrath of Georges, the sentiment of many was voiced by Yoes when he commented if the hurricane had come here, “We’d have been nailed. We got real lucky.”

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