By Carolyn Roy and Juanice Gray
Snow in Louisiana has everyone in a flurry (pun intended). Families were building snowmen, making snow ice cream and taking in the beauty of the rare blanket of white. On the other hand, road crews, wrecker services, utility companies and DOTD were bracing for impact and faced with the responsibility of keeping the public safe.
Brian Swords with Tony’s Body Shop said they had responded to calls nonstop from 8 p.m. Sunday night until Monday evening. “It was all hands on deck,” he said. The calls ranged from rescuing motorists attempting to go around downed trees and becoming stuck to those who lost control in the snow, slush and ice. “Some simply slid into the ditch trying to navigate the slush‚” he said. Drivers are not used to navigating in these conditions.
S/T Casey Wallace, Public Information Officer for La. State Police Troop E said they responded to 34 weather related incidents as of Tuesday, Jan. 12. By comparison, Brent Hardy, PIO of LSP Troop G said only one crash was reported on Sunday night and one Monday.
Erin Buchanan, PIO for DOTD, said there were approximately 50 bridges salted in the parish in preparation of the precipitation. She said there were 55 trucks, approximately 230 employees, distributing roughly 300,000 pounds of salt on bridges and overpasses in the seven parish central La., District (Rapides, Avoyelles, Vernon, Natchitoches, Grant, Winn and Sabine Parishes)
During its peak outage period late Sunday and early Monday, SWEPCO had 5,900 customers in the Natchitoches area without power but that number was down to 400 as of noon Wednesday. There are 21 crews, including 176 linemen, on the job, also as of noon Wednesday. There are 18 tree-trimming crews at work in the Natchitoches area. As restoration is completed in East Texas, more linemen will come to Louisiana but that number is undetermined.
A Cleco spokesperson said the company had 93 outages in Natchitoches with all but four restored Monday at 5 p.m. Those four were restored by Tuesday afternoon. There are no numbers available about the number of linemen working but a majority of the work was done by Cleco crews with only a few outside contractors used.
Parish Government Director of Public Works Johnny Salard said his department was ready with sand bags, spreaders and salt but Parish roads fared rather well as there were no calls about iced-over bridges. Salard said the crews salted a few bridges and were ready to spread sand if needed but did not have to.
City of Natchitoches Interim Director of Public Works Fred Bernstine said he had four crews of two men each ready with salt, sand, barricades and chain saws. “We were ready but actually didn’t get called out and today, (Wednesday) things are pretty much back to normal.” Bernstine said City crews did cut a few limbs. La. DOTD salted the bridges in the city.
City of Natchitoches Utility Department Director Matt Anderson describes the snow event as “a lot of little things.” Knowing the snow was predicted, crews began trimming limbs last week. They filled vehicles with fuel, sharpened chain saw blades and did other similar tasks. Some 20 employees were awaiting the snow and the calls. “The calls began about 9 p.m. Sunday about a few outages and by midnight all the crews were working,” Anderson says. The first major hurdle was to get power restored to Natchitoches Regional Medical Center. Crews worked through Sunday night and all day Monday with the last calls coming about 9 p.m. Anderson says the water plant was cranked up and ready to go and water storage tanks were filled. “It was not like Hurricane Laura when we had so many broken utility poles. There were no broken poles and just one cross arm,” Anderson said.