ISAAC’S IMPACT: St. James tightens up

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 13, 2012

The following is the second in a series of articles examining Hurricane Isaac’s impact throughout the River Parishes and beyond.



CONVENT – When St. James Parish is faced with its next tropical event Parish President Timmy Roussel said he would like to see a more efficient level of communication between residents and parish employees.

“I think we did a lot of things right, but we need to work on how we communicate information in an emergency situation,” Roussel said. “We can’t depend solely on email and Facebook.”

Roussel said the snag in St. James as the region weathered Hurricane Isaac was with getting information and updates out to the “poorest of the poor.” He said he would consider sending employees out door-to-door before the storm strikes to distribute information to residents who may not have access to a computer.

“That might be the best way to get to some of our residents,” he said.

Roussel said the parish also must push use of its emergency text alert system and its emergency hotline, 1-877-997-8526, which was updated constantly during the storm.

“It seemed like we mentioned those things a lot at meetings and events, but people didn’t seem to get the message,” Roussel said. “We had about 1,000 more people sign up for text alerts for Isaac, but use of the hotline was very low.”

On the positive side, Roussel said he was very proud of the hastily arranged sandbag operation that kicked into gear when water in the parish started to rise two days after the storm pushed through.

“People were coming out of the woodwork to help their neighbors,” Roussel said. “You saw everyone from young children to the elderly filling sandbags to protect property.”

Roussel said there were as many as 75-100 people working at each of the sandbagging locations. He said some worked into the wee hours of the morning and then came back out the next day and got right back to work. He said the parish is considering purchase of sandbagging machines to make the job more efficient.

“Since the storm, we have worked to learn elevations throughout the parish,” Roussel said. “We are going to know how many sandbags each neighborhood needs. We want to put together a list of homeowners in need of sandbags so that it can be placed at the fire stations ahead of time.”

Roussel said the obvious need for the parish, and the entire River Region, is a viable hurricane protection levee to keep the surge from Lake Pontchartrain out of homes and businesses. He said if the parish cannot rely on the federal government, he wants to see what the parish can do for itself.

“I would strongly consider passing a tax that could help us put some ring levees and pump stations around vulnerable neighborhoods,” he said. “I think all parishes in this region agree that we need help. If we don’t do something, it will get us again. We saw flooding where we never saw it before, and we have to correct that.”

Roussel also said he understands that the parish will need the help of the federal government and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fund and construct a protection levee. He said the region must continue to push the local congressional delegation to get something done quickly.

“The system needs to change,” Roussel said. “We have waited too long for this, and now we need action.”