Preparing for #13: Sandbags available for parish residents

Deidre Cruse

Sandbags are available for residents to pick up at the Iberville Parish maintenance facility on Bayou Road, where a new machine that can prepare 25 to 30 bags a minute could get its first real-world test if rain-laden Tropical Depression #13 moves into the area this weekend.

After a conference call with weather experts at 11 a.m., Emergency Preparedness Director Laurie Doiron said said the track of the storm is still uncertain and the National Weather Service is not ruling out its development into a weak hurricane.

The National Weather Service has issued tropical storm warnings for southeast Louisiana and coastal Mississippi, with the storm expected to approach the Louisiana coast late Saturday. If it is upgraded to tropical storm status, it would be named Lee.

So far, the predicted rainfall for this area is eight to 10 inches, Doiron said.

“We're watching it really, really close because it does have potential,” the director said. “They are not ruling out a Category 1 hurricane. The longer it stalls, the worse [it could be].”

Gov. Bobby Jindal and Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. both have signed emergency declarations just in case so that government aid would be available, she said.

“We are not letting our guard down,”Doiron said. “The longer this thing sits out there, the stronger it can get. Although we are talking a rain event, we're not discounting wind.”

Maintenance Supervisor Mark Migliacio said the barn will be open until 7:30 p.m. tonight (Friday, September 2). Bags also are available at the St. Gabriel Fire Station on La. 20 today, and will be available tomorrow  at both facilities, as well as fire stations in White Castle, Bayou Sorrel and Bayou Pigeon.

The maintenance barn will reopen at 7 a.m. Saturday and remain open “till it's all over,” Migliacio said.

He said he is distributing bags from a store of more than 5,000 already made up, but will begin Saturday using the new sandbagging machine.

The staff of the Office of Emergency Preparedness will be on duty throughout the weekend keeping track of the storm and conditions in the parish, Chief Administrative Officer Edward A. “Lucky” Songy Jr. said.

The Office of Emergency Preparedness is monitoring the floodgate at Alligator Bayou, which will be closed if water from Bayou Manchac starts backing up into Alligator Bayou, Songy said.

Plaquemine Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta said this morning that city crews are on standby and have been making sure chain saws and other equipment are operational.

Parts of Iberville Parish flooded in 1989 when Tropical Storm Allison stalled and dumped 12 inches of rain overnight in the Plaquemine area. Drainage systems, equipped to handle five inches of rainfall within a 24-hour period, have been maintained carefully since then.

During the spring flood, Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. saw a demonstration of a sandbagging machine and took advantage of the declared emergency to purchase the $60,000 piece of equipment now in place at the maintenance barn.

In past emergencies, Ourso said, it would take 50 to 60 prison inmates, for whom the parish had to pay for their meals and security, to make 30 sandbags per minute.

“This equipment? is faster, more reliable and safer for the community,” he noted. “The parish routinely ?supplies sandbags to the municipalities in the parish, so this equipment will help all?Iberville residents.”