Martinez: Marvin Braud pumping station, levee system threatened during Hurricane Gustav

Wade McIntyre

Parish President Tommy Martinez said parish residents dodged a direct hit from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike which could have inundated the parish with a surge of water.

Speaking at a recent Rotary Club of Gonzales meeting, Martinez said a six to eight foot surge of water will happen at some point in Ascension in the future, flooding many homes and businesses.

Parish pumping stations are designed for a ten-year rain event and will not prevent damage from such a surge, he said.

During Hurricane Ike water levels came within 3 1/2 feet of topping levees and about four feet from topping the main Marvin Braud Pumping station gate, Drainage Board Director Bill Roux confirmed Monday. He said the levels after Ike were the highest seen at the station since it was constructed.

Water topping the main gate at the station would shut the station down in terms of pumping water, Roux said.

Martinez, whose own home was severely damaged by Hurricane Gustav, said when residents in the future hear of a possible 20-foot tidal surge predicted in the area, they should leave the parish.

Otherwise, “You could get hurt and put yourself in danger,” he said.

Martinez recapped parish hurricane pre-planning efforts, from loaning 150 school busses to the state and dispensing sand bags to different areas for residents to pick up.

After Gustav, volunteers and crews from the sheriff’s office working with chain saws cleared at least one lane on most parish roads within 24-hours, he said.

“We had a plan with Entergy that was important to put hospitals, schools and businesses back on line first,” he said. Part of the plan was to bring gas stations back in order to reduce customer lines and restore a sense of things being restored to order.

Martinez praised elected officials for knowing what their jobs were and working long hours together during the crisis.

When the morgue in Donaldsonville filled, Martinez said officials were forced to consider unloading a refrigerated food truck from the school board to transport bodies, before being able to secure a bus passing through the parish for the task.

The parish president unloaded on FEMA for failing to deliver blue tarps for residents to protect their damaged homes.

“FEMA called one day and the tarps were in Atlanta and on their way here,” he said. “The next day they were in Denver.”

Internal communication was good during the storm, but Martinez said parish officials had to call Baton Rouge media to give them information. “They didn’t call us,” he said.

The parish served up 1,400 tons of storm commodities, including 392,000 bags of ice, and 52,000 tarps.

“Only 3,000 tarps were given out on the west side,” Martinez said. “The people who need the most don’t always get what they need.”

Disaster brings out the best and worst in people, and “there will be some people with an ample supply of MREs and tarps on hand in the next event,” he said.

Donaldsonville was one of the hardest hit areas, he said, with every electrical pole going into the city broken.

“The whole line had to be replaced,” he said.

Also speaking briefly at the meeting was State Fire Marshall Butch Browning, who praised the improvement in communications between firefighters and rescue workers since Hurricane Katrina.

He said communication lines were opened up three days before the storm was predicted to hit impacted areas.

“If you can’t communicate, you can’t get what you need,” he said. He said he learned from Gustav and Ike that more precommunications need to be set up with other states.

Browning described state participation in the hurricane relief effort “phenomenal.”

That was in contrast to Hurricane Katrina when about 200 deputies from the state fire marshall’s office had no responsibilities in the hurricane effort.

“We changed that,” he said. “This time they all had duties.”