Parish Council assesses response to Gustav damage

Aaron Looney

The Ascension Parish Council gathered in a special meeting Thursday to discuss recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Gustav.

Tommy Martinez told the council that he felt parish employees did “an excellent job” in preparing for Hurricane Gustav and after the storm had passed.

Representatives from both DEMCO and Entergy spoke during the meeting, updating the council on efforts to return electrical power to the parish.

Cheryl Marlborough of DEMCO told the council that as of Thursday morning, only eight Ascension Parish customers were without power.

“It was more repair issues on their part,” said Malborough, who added that winds from Hurricane Ike began to topple tree limbs that were weakened by Gustav. “We’re on top of it. Our employees have been working tirelessly.”

Entergy representative David Herring said that the east bank of the parish would have 95 percent of Entergy customers who were able to accept power with electricity as of Friday morning.

“There is a segment of our customers who have damage that will require an electrician to do repair work and inspection,” Herring said. “Power is available to 100 percent of our main distribution lines and its feeder lines.”

On the west bank, Herring said, all schools had power as of Thursday and were scheduled to reopen, but the parish’s public school system chose to close its schools Friday in advance of Hurricane Ike. Schools reopened Monday across the parish.

Herring said that Prevost Memorial Hospital and the nursing homes in and around Donaldsonville had power restored. He added that gas stations near the Sunshine Bridge on Hwy. 70 also had power as of Thursday, with more expected to regain power throughout the weekend.

“Donaldsonville had a lot of damage,” Herring said.

Herring said that while only 35 percent of the city limits of Donaldsonville had power, many spots in the unincorporated area of the west bank had power. He said that most of the west bank was set to be energized by Sunday.

When asked by Councilman Oliver Joseph why crews were leaving Donaldsonville, Herring said that the crews were undergoing rotations and that some workers were moving to Texas to stage for damages expected by Hurricane Ike there.

Rick Webre, director of the parish’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, updated the council on damages sustained by Hurricane Gustav and expressed thanks to his staff as well as parish officials for the cooperation.

Webre said that the school system allowed the use of 150 buses to help evacuate people from lower lying areas of the state, while the parish’s Council on Aging allowed use of its vans to transport special needs patients to shelters.

Webre added that the parish’s public works department used 16,000 tons of sand to fill bags in an effort to keep flood waters out of parish homes and businesses. Public works employees also cleared all of the parish’s major thoroughfares to at least one lane of open traffic within 24 hours of the storm making landfall.

Speaking about shelters in the parish, Webre said the American Red Cross shelter at Dutchtown High School held 247 people at its peak hours of operation, while the Dream Center East in Donaldsonville served as a shelter until damages forced its closure.

The parish’s two points of distribution, the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales and the Lemann Memorial Center in Donaldsonville, stayed open until power was restored in their respective areas, Webre said.

One aspect of the recovery process Webre said he would like to see improved was the creation of a special needs patient shelter in the parish. The closest such shelter to Ascension during Hurricane Gustav was the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at LSU.

“Ascension really needs a special needs shelter,” Webre said. “That’s something I plan to work on and have here soon.”

Webre also said that contra flow traffic coming through the parish prior to Hurricane Gustav “was the best I’ve ever seen it.”

Webre thanked the numerous volunteers and faith-based organizations for their assistance during the storm’s aftermath.

The council will hold its regular meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. in the council chambers, Bell announced.