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Ohio train derailment spurs Iberville Parish mock disaster drill

Staff Report

On the heels of the recent train derailment in Palestine, Ohio, Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. took a preemptive step to ensure the parish is prepared in the event of a similar disaster.

Ourso commissioned first-response officials from the parish to hold a drill that would help formulate a plan of action should any area of Iberville Parish face a disaster similar to the derailment on Feb. 3 in the Ohio village.

A mock drill commissioned by Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. focused on plans of action in the event of a train derailment similar to the Feb. 3 disaster in Palestine, Ohio.

The derailment in Palestine led to a chemical spill, followed by a chemical burn that released toxins into the air, water and soil around the village.

As part of the Iberville Parish drill, Ourso commissioned Iberville Parish Council Office of Emergency Preparedness Director Clint Moore and Plaquemine City Fire Chief Darren Rarmirez to conduct a derailment tabletop exercise in Plaquemine.

More than 70 officials from various agencies and schools throughout the parish took part in the exercise.

Those entities include Iberville Parish OEP/911 Office, Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office, Plaquemine Fire Department, Plaquemine Police Department, Iberville Parish School Board, St. John School, State Police Hazmat, Louisiana DEQ, Union Pacific Railroad, Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Coast Guard, Red Cross, Louisiana Emergency Response Network and Acadian Ambulance.

Representatives from local chemical plants also participated, along with fire chiefs from East Iberville, Maringouin and Grosse Tete.

It was a slightly large undertaking when Ourso ordered the drill, Moore said.

“When he asked Darren and I to host to drill, the biggest thing was to get everybody from all the different agencies in a room together,” Moore said. “We were told by a couple people at the drill that just the fact that we got 70 agencies in a room together talking about this topic was an achievement in itself.”

The widespread coverage of the derailment and the news of the extensive damage to the Ohio village delivered an eye-opener to Iberville parish officials.

It put a “spotlight” on the potential hazards that come with train derailments, Moore said.

“Now, we hear of all derailments, and now it’s full coverage of any derailment and whatever it was carrying,” he said. “It was past time for us to host a drill and I feel it was successful.”

Communication was the biggest focus of the event.

All parties need to be on the same page and should know what each agency is doing, he said.

“We need to come together and have a message with everyone else and make sure everyone is doing the same thing,” Moore said.

Tables were split up into different agencies, which enabled agencies to determine corrective measures and how they would react to a derailment/chemical spill.

One of the best parts of the exercise was to bring everyone at the table so officials could put a face with a name, Moore said.

“Chances are, when something like this happens, you’re going to be dealing with these people for a long time,” he said. “Being able to know who these people are ahead of time and being able to establish an open line of communication with these people puts you ahead of the game.”

The abundance of industrial presence and railroads on both sides of the parish make it imperative to hold the exercise.

“We have rail that goes through the heart of Plaquemine and White Castle, and then you have Canadian National that goes right down La. 30 into St. Gabriel,” Moore said. “Both of them go through the municipalities multiple times a day carrying all sorts of chemicals going in an out those chemical plants.”

For the next drill, Moore wants to use an outside company to host the exercises and plan it out.

“But being we put this drill together so fast, for what it was it really went well,” he said.

At the same time, he faces the challenges that come from hurricane season, which begins June 1. “There’s never a dull moment, Moore said.