Crews remain busy after historic winter storm ends

Staff Report
City of Plaquemine work crews stayed busy around the clock for much of the week after ice and record cold temperatures led to power outages, water leaks and collapsed trees.

Work continues in Iberville Parish on repairs to water lines and removal of limbs after one of the longest stretches of sub-freezing temperatures in nearly 60 years.

The winter storm that shut down schools, government offices and most businesses across Iberville Parish kept public works crews working on fallen limbs, power outages and restoration of water pressure.

The 20-degree low reported Feb. 16 broke a record that had been on the books since 1903. The longest stretch of sub-freezing temperatures prior to last week came in January 1962.

President Joe Biden signed an emergency declaration last Thursday, which Gov. John Bel Edwards requested to help in repairs of infrastructure damage during the storm, which brought hardships throughout the South, particularly in Texas.

On the home-front, freezing rain left residents without power in Plaquemine and its surrounding area for anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days.

Temperatures remained at or below freezing more than 72 hours, which kept ice on roadways and work crew a far more difficult challenge.

“We’re trained in hurricanes, watch them, but this ice storm is a whole different thing than we ever deal with,” Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso said. “I certainly understand what they go through in the Northeast, but this is the first time in the South we’ve had something like this.”

Ice accumulation caused limbs to collapse into the front yard of this Plaquemine home, along with others throughout Iberville Parish.

Ice on trees led to collapsed limbs, which caused power outages throughout much of the parish. Plaquemine endured the worst onslaught when power outages left 75 percent in cold and darkness.

“We’re just about back to normal, but we took it on the chin,” Plaquemine Mayor Edwin “Ed” Reeves Jr. said Friday. “After we got the lights on, we had 40 calls Thursday and 40 more Friday.

“This was probably the worst storm we’ve ever been through,” he said. “But crews never worked hard, never complained and worked tirelessly.”

Power outages were not the only hardship. Water pressure added to the problems for residents through much of the parish.

Boil alerts went into effect Thursday as crews worked around the clock to fix lines affected by the frigid temperatures.

“Our water line was in bad shape when we tried to choke down the system,” Ourso said. “Everybody was loosening their faucets to protect it, but then with everyone running their faucets, that was a lot of water going out.

“We didn’t lose the system or the water, so after this clears up, we’ll be preparing leads, and we’ll be doing that all over the parish, he said.

The parish has begun procedures to find all water leaks, Crews will also contend with the issues involving the natural gas supply, he said.

“We’ll have to worry about the natural gas from the suppliers,” Ourso said.

Busted water pipes also posed problems in White Castle, St. Gabriel and the northern end of the parish, including Grosse Tete, Rosedale and Maringouin.

“For the most part, we had no problem,” St. Gabriel Mayor Lionel Johnson Jr. said. “We had a few people, like me, who had busted pipes, but that’s all a part of Mother Nature.”

“We never lost power and never lost water,” Grosse Tete Mayor Mike Chaufe said. “The parish took care of us pretty well … other than busted pipes, we were okay. No trees went down, we had no problems with power lines and no service was interrupted.”

Public works crews will remain busy as they try to repair all the leaves around the parish, Ourso said.

Despite the hardships, situation could have been far worse, he said.

“As you go along, you learn from each of these storms as for as the issues you’ll face, and it’s all the same in an ice storm. It’s so much different from a hurricane because a hurricane hits an area – the ice storm affects everyone,” he said. “It was a very stressful situation, but we’ve come through it.”

Traffic issues posed a problem for the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office and Louisiana State Police on Interstate 10. A 14-car pileup on the westbound, a five-car wreck on eastbound and three bottlenecked 18-wheelers occurred within a short span just after midnight Feb. 15.

No fatalities were reported, but a more proactive measure to safeguard the highways may have avoided those accidents, Sheriff Brett Stassi said.

“I think that the State Police were a little late in shutting down I-10, which caused accidents along Whiskey Bay,” he said. “It all came down to a lack of coordination between Troop A and Troop I … they didn’t even have it shut down at midnight.”

The last severe ice storm in south Louisiana occurred in January 1982. The last run with sleet and frozen rain occurred around Mardi Gras 2014, while snow had appeared twice during 2017.

The worst cold snap occurred at Christmas 1989, when temperatures dropped to 8 degrees.