GUSTAV'S FURY

Aanifa LeBlanc
A tree sits through a house on Airline HIghway near Duplessis. after high winds from Hurricane Gustav tore through Ascension Parish Monday. The storm hit land as a Category 2 storm at Barataria and made its way north and west. Officials reported no fatalities in Ascension from the storm as of Thursday.

Ascension Parish took severe damage Monday as Hurricane Gustav made landfall along the Louisiana coast and roared north through the area.

Parish President Tommy Martinez said Tuesday that the storm “was the worst storm I’ve ever seen in Ascension Parish.”

The entire parish, including its three municipalities, suffered extensive damage from Gustav including trees crushing homes, businesses and other property.

Numerous people reported downed trees from the storm, Martinez said, while the entire parish lost electrical service from the storm’s strong winds.

While Martinez said Tuesday that power outages could last for weeks, some power began coming on in the Prairieville and Gonzales areas Thursday.

Martinez experienced the damage first hand, as his home on Hwy. 431 in St. Amant suffered damage when a tree fell on it during Monday’s high winds.

Parish government created a special task force, headed by Planning and Development Director Ricky Compton, to survey damage, Martinez said.

“Their job will be to view damage to buildings and property to get some kind of assessment,” Martinez said.

Parish government has also asked the National Guard for additional equipment and manpower in the parish to assist in handing out supplies.

All parish roads were scheduled to be cleared by Wednesday, Martinez said. He added that all major parish traffic arteries were cleared as of Tuesday for travel.

Martinez said that the parish did not suffer many immediate flooding issues as of Tuesday, but that rising waters in the Amite River and local waterways could cause minor flooding in the next few days.

“We lowered the levels in Spanish Lake before the storm to create a reservoir, so it was able to handle more water than usual,” Martinez said. “Plus, the storm moved so fast over us that it didn’t have time to dump much rain on us. What we’re worried about is the rising rivers.”

Martinez said that flooding in some areas was attributed to tree limbs and other debris blocking drainage canals

Martinez said parish officials had 18,000 blue tarps en route to be delivered for distribution. Tuesday, numerous parish workers manned the public works building on Churchpoint Road in Gonzales to distribute meals ready to eat (MRE’s) and blue tarps to help patch structural damage.

Martinez also said that the parish’s west bank suffered extensive damage from the storm, adding that he planned to tour the area Tuesday afternoon to assess damages.

“They were closer to the eye than the east bank, so they had some of those stronger hurricane-force winds in areas like Donaldsonville and Modeste. They saw numerous road closures.”

Martinez said that sewer systems in both Sorrento and Donaldsonville lost generator power, which possibly led to both systems being compromised. He said that generators were brought to both areas for assistance.

Two shelters opened in Ascension Parish, manned by American Red Cross staff and volunteers. The shelter at Dutchtown High School in Geismar had 560 people at its peak, Martinez said.

Meanwhile, the Dream Center East on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Donaldsonville held 250 people at its peak before closing because of storm damage. Martinez said that people who still needed shelter were transported to the Dutchtown High School shelter Wednesday.

Rick Webre, director of the Ascension Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, said that any parish residents wishing to volunteer services or supplies can call 744-HELP for more information.

Prior to the storm striking Ascension Parish, Sheriff Jeff Wiley instituted a parishwide 10 p.m.-to-dawn curfew Sunday and Monday in advance of the storm. However, he lifted the curfew Tuesday after the storm passed.

Martinez said that while the curfew is gone, “residents still better have a good reason to be out after 10 p.m,” adding that deputies would continue to patrol the area.

Superintendent of Schools Donald Songy said Tuesday that parish public schools would be closed indefinitely because of power outages throughout the parish. The same is true for other non-public schools and vocational schools, as well as River Parishes Community College in Sorrento.

Martinez urged parish residents to practice patience as officials and utility companies work to repair damages.

“We are doing the best we can to get repairs done throughout Ascension Parish,” Martinez said.

“We’re asking that residents please be patient and allow these peoples to do their jobs.”

Martinez also asked parish residents to help one another by sharing resources or offering assistance, if possible, to neighbors and friends.

“People can help their neighbors as much as possible. We have a very giving spirit in Ascension Parish, and that shines through in situations such as these.”

The roof was torn from Treasures and Things on Hwy. 44 in Gonzales by Gustav.