Eyes stay on Gustav

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 28, 2008


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – Officials in the River Parishes are keeping a cautious eye on weather reports throughout the weekend, as residents are taking necessary steps to be ready in the event that Hurricane Gustav makes landfall in South Louisiana.

Representatives from St. John, St. Charles and St. James Parishes all said as of late this week that they are watching the path of the storm with great interest, but not taking any formal action in reaction to the track until they are certain that it is necessary.

That is because Gustav, as of Friday, was still relatively hard to predict. The storm, which officials are suggesting could be as strong as a Category 3 hurricane, had slowed down as it was coming towards Cuba and getting ready to head into the Gulf of Mexico.

From there, National Weather Service forecasters have painted a wide swath across the Gulf Coast region, saying the storm may end up coming inland anywhere from Florida to Texas. Clearly Louisiana residents, only three years removed from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, were worried about the prospect of getting hit again. Residents are urged to get up-to-date information today and through the weekend and keep tuned to official weather forecasting sources.

“We are just urging people to be ready for anything at this point,” said St. John public information officer Buddy Boe. “Residents should get their hurricane kits ready and stay tuned to the government access channel (15 on Comcast) for any updates the parish puts out.”

Boe said the parish has ordered 10,000 sandbags and will be setting up locations in LaPlace, Reserve, Edgard and Pleasure Bend for residents to pick up filled bags.

Since there are no hurricane shelters in St. John Parish, Boe said the parish has prepared bus transportation for the elderly or anyone who may need assistance in getting out. To be put on the list, residents need to call the parish’s main office line at 985-652-9569. The St. John Council on aging will make arrangements to pick people up to take them to the busses.

“The bus system is part of the state’s evacuation system,” said Boe. “The buses have no set location. They are just transporting people to the nearest shelter location.”

Boe said that Parish President Bill Hubbard has not ordered a full evacuation of the parish, but said that order may happen in the coming days.

Boe added that the St. John Animal Shelter is closed and no more animals will be taken in for boarding. He said that all animals being kept at the shelter at the present time are being evacuated with the help of SPCA.

In St. Charles Parish, crews are cleaning and fueling pumping stations along with clearing out catch basins and drainage canals in an effort to ensure that drainage in the parish does not become an issue.

St. Charles Public Information Officer Renee Allemand said public works officials are setting up water-filled tubes to form a temporary levee in low-lying spots in the parish that need extra protection. The west bank of the parish has no levee protection along the lake and Allemand said that residents must remain alert.

In addition to the water tubes, St. Charles is setting up 37 locations parish wide for residents to fill sandbags. Residents must bring their own shovels. These locations are available on the parish’s web site, www.stcharlesgov.net, or by calling into the parish’s main office at 985-783-5000.

Allemand said if conditions continue to deteriorate, Parish President V.J. St. Pierre will call for an evacuation of all of St. Charles. This would include enforcement of the parish’s assisted evacuation plan for residents who can’t get out on their own.

“The program is really only for a last resort,” said Allemand. “Anyone who still needs to register needs to contact emergency preparedness at 985-783-5050.”

Allemand said the program includes a series of buses that will transport people to a shelter in Marksville in Avoyelles Parish. She said the parish is still seeking volunteer bus drivers to help out in the assisted evacuation. No CDL license is necessary and anyone who wants to participate should contact emergency preparedness.

Resident in St. Charles also need to be aware that interstates will become harder to travel if an evacuation order is enforced. Allemand said once the state’s contra-flow system begins I-310 will only be open between the Luling Bridge and Airline Highway. Evacuation maps are available on the parish’s website at www.stcharlesgov.net/hurricane, which also has a wealth of information regarding further storm preparations. There will also be continuous updates on St. Charles parish’s cable access channel (channel 6 on all carriers) as well as on the parish’s low power radio station, 1370 AM.

St. James Parish President Dale Hymel said he and his staff are also in a “wait and see” mode to see what path the storm might take. He said any evacuation order would come after Saturday depending on where landfall is projected, but nothing is formal yet.

“We are just getting things nailed down,” said Hymel. “I think it’s still early yet, and it may still be too early by Saturday. We do want to make sure we know what we are doing because I don’t think the storm knows what it is doing.”

Updated information from St. James can be found on the parish’s web site at www.stjamesla.com/James/index.asp.