Public schools closed Monday, many residents boil tapwater until cleared

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 2004


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – Tropical Storm Matthew caused floodwater in LaPlace Sunday and Monday that shut down schools, compromised business and left thousands of parish residents without drinking water.

According to the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board, classes were canceled Monday due to the inconvenience stemming from flood waters and to a lack of tap water.

An extra day of school will have to be attached to this year’s agenda to make up the missed classroom time, school officials said.

Closed schools included John Ory Communication Magnet Elementary, LaPlace Elementary, East St. John Elementary and Glade. The Reserve Christian School was still closed Tuesday.

St. John the Baptist Parish Councilman Steve Lee said the parish water line broke between Pumping Station No. 1 and Pumping Station No. 2 in the Ruddock area.

“The majority of LaPlace – 25,000 to 30,000 residents – were left without water,” said Lee.

Lee and several other councilmen said they will ask the parish administration, in the next council meeting, to study the water pipe in order to determine how it broke.

Lee conveyed parish engineers and the Department of Public Utilities would most likely be asked to investigate the pipe breakage.

“This shows a need for a new regional plan. A new plan calls for an additional parish water line. The new line could serve as a back-up line or the old line in Ruddock could serve as a back-up line,” said Lee.

Department of Emergency Services Assistant Director Kathy Gilmore said, “Our main water line ruptured Sunday at about 1:30 p.m. We repaired and replaced it early Monday morning.”

To repair the broken water line, parish workers built a dike to hold back floodwater.

According to Lee, the pipe was repaired Monday morning between 3 and 4.

“Our staff workers with the Department of Public Utilities and with the Department of Public Works did an outstanding job. They restored water to the entire parish in approximately 12 hours. This was a lot of work,” said Lee.

Gilmore said the Department of Health will test the water running through the repaired line to make sure the water is safe for bodily consumption.

Before the tests were completed, Parish President Nickie Monica advised residents to boil tap water before drinking it or using it to brush your teeth.

This will ensure the safety of the drinking water, said Gilmore.

Gilmore discussed areas in the parish that flooded.

She said her office received calls from areas of River Forest, FoxWood, Cambridge and Goshen Lane and that the Emergency Operation Center Director Paul Oncale personally drove to the areas to assess flooding.

When asked if sand bags could be used to protect residents’ homes from flooding, she said, “No, the water is already there. There are a few homes with water but the greatest number of complaints stem from rising water due to passing vehicles.”

The Department of Public Utilities Director Ralph Bean also responded to calls from residents. Bean could not be reached at his office Monday. His secretary said he went out to assess areas with high water.

Several LaPlace business said they either lost business or had to make adjustments.

The Waffle House, located at 4304 Main St., had very little business Sunday and Monday because customers could not enter the parking lot, due to the rising water.

Waitress Christina Charrier said the only patrons that frequented the eatery were those who drove large vehicles like SUV’s and trucks.

“We lost two-thirds to three-quarters of our normal business,” said Charrier.

The waitress said the diner used disposable plates and plastic cutlery to serve its small number of customers.

“We had no water available for washing dishes. We spent $40 on bottled water to serve our customers and we melted ice for cleaning water. We put the melted ice on the grill to warm it up,” explained Charrier.

General Manager Shannon Gardner with Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburger, said the eating establishment located at 4296 Main St. was impacted by the rising water.

“We lost 90 percent of our customers. The only customers we received were those that could cross the high water in trucks,” said Gardner. “We go through this every time we get storm weather.”

Hotels in the area did not seem to suffer a loss of business.

Hampton Inn Administrative Office Manager Denise Joseph said problems were not as bad as they looked.

“All our guests are here. In fact, we are full. They did not seem to mind small inconveniences. We served them bottled water,” said Joseph.

Best Western Assistant General Manager Kathy White said the only problem her business underwent was a flooded parking lot.

According to White, an annex connecting the Pilot Truck Stop parking lot to the Best Western was flooded. Cars stalled trying to cross from one business to the other.

“Our guests were pleased and have extended their stay. We have more people coming because they can’t get into their places,” said White.