NEWS

Martinez declares state of emergency in Ascension for Gustav

Aaron Looney
Parish President Tommy Martinez speaks to reporters during a press briefing Friday morning in the Parish Council chambers in Gonzales. Martinez declared a state of emergency in the parish in anticipation of Tropical Storm Gustav making landfall in Louisiana as a major hurricane early next week.

Parish President Tommy Martinez declared a state of emergency Friday in Ascension Parish, as the state braces for possible impact from Hurricane Gustav early next week.

The announcement came during a press briefing in the Parish Council chambers. Speakers at the event included Martinez, Sheriff Jeff Wiley, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Patrice Pujol and parish Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Richard Webre.

“We’re doing this because we think Gustav will have an effect on Ascension Parish,” said Martinez, adding that he also made the declaration so that the parish could take advantage of state and federal aid services.

Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency for Louisiana Wednesday in advance of the storm. He has also activated 3,000 Louisiana National Guard tropps for duty across the state.

Nearly half of that total congregated at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales before heading to the Ernest P. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans Friday morning in advance of helping with hurricane preparations there.

As of 2 p.m. Friday, the center of Hurricane Gustev was located at latitude 18.8 north and longitude 79.3 west, according to the National Weather Service. The storm was moving west northwest at 11 miles per hour with maximum sustained winds at 75 miles per hour.

Gustav was blamed for 67 deaths in Hispanola and Jamaica Wednesday and Thursday. The storm is expected to impact the Cayman Islands and Cuba as a hurricane before entering the Gulf of Mexico by Sunday.

“I want to encourage our citizens to get ready for this storm and to take it very seriously,” Martinez said.

Wiley said that officials expect Ascension Parish to take a stronger blow from Gustav than it has from other recent storms.

“If it stays on its current track, we’re anticipating an event,” Wiley said. “We think that we’ll get more than we’re accustomed to than the last several storms in Ascension.”

Webre also said that residents can visit the OHSEP Web site at www.ascensionparish.net for futher information on sandbag distriubtion locations and other emergency information.

Shelter information

Along with the state of emergency declaration, Martinez also issued an executive order Friday stating that the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center will not be used as an emergency shelter during the storm event.

Webre said that Lamar-Dixon would not be used as a shelter because of Gustav’s likelihood to have serious effects on Ascension Parish. He said that the center will be used as a staging area for law enforcement, military and utilities personnel to service the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas.

Webre said that four parish locations - two on each bank of the Mississippi River - will be used as emergency shelters. They include:

• On the east bank, Dutchtown High School, located on Hwy. 73 south of Interstate 10 in Geismar. If necessary, overflow from the shelter would be sent to Dutchtown Middle School, located across the street.

• On the west bank, The Dream Center East, located in the former Lowery Middle School building on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Donaldsonville; and the Dream Center West, located at the corner of First and Peytavin streets in Donaldsonville.

Wiley and Webre stressed that as of Friday, the shelters were not open. Webre added that the shelters would not be opened until at least 12 hours prior to Gustav making landfall.

Law enforcement/traffic information

Wiley said Friday that his department began formal interaction with neighboring parish governments as well as the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Thursday morning, participating in conference calls and meetings to discuss strategy.

“We want to know what they’re doing and how we can work together through this,” Wiley said.

Concerning possible road closures, Wiley said that he will rely on his field deputies, parish and municipal public works employees and the general public to report any conditions that could warrant a closure.

Wiley said that parish residents should expect to see increased traffic on parish roads and major arteries as soon as Friday, with possible implementation of contra flow traffic expected on Interstate 10 and U.S. 61 by 6 p.m. Saturday evening.

“We will all become impacted, so we need to prepare for it,” Wiley said. “We could start seeing the effects of Gustav as soon as today.”

Wiley urged parish residents wishing to evacuate to do so before traffic becomes gridlocked throughout the metro area.

Flooding/Sandbag information

Martinez said that one of the biggest problems that could face Ascension Parish with Gustev is flooding of low-lying areas.

“if it keeps the same track, flooding could be a major concern,” he said. “If you live in a low-lying area and you’ve flooded before and think you’ll flood again this time, take advantage of this opportunity to get sandbags.”

Parish and municipal officials said that sandbags will be made available throughout the parish at fire stations, the Ascension Civic Center in Sorrento and other locations.

Donaldsonville Mayor Leroy Sullivan said Friday that sandbags are available for residents there as well as in the City of Gonzales, Mayor Johnny Berthelot said Thursday.

Be sure to visit www.weeklycitizen.com for continued updates on Gustav’s track.