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|GET OUT, GUSTAV-Storm knocks out lights, disrupts life, but no injuries, deaths|
Except for those with generators, Concordia Parish and surrounding areas were in pitch black Monday night during one of the worst storms to hit this region in decades.
Once Hurricane Gustav slammed onto the Gulf Coast Monday morning, conditions here went downhill quickly. By midnight, as the storm moved inland, every household and business without a generator was in the dark.
Refugees filled every hotel room in the region and local families played host to their relatives and friends from south Louisiana. Ironically, many of theses guest found themselves in the center of the storm here while their homes from Lake Charles to Lafayette never lost power and experienced little wind.
Flashlights, the flames from gas stoves, candles, lanterns, automobile headlights and the glow of cell phones were the only means of light in Concordia for hours. Power lines and poles were brought down by high winds and falling limbs and trees.
While everyone was without electricity for at least 24 hours, power was restored in some areas late Tuesday while heavy rains -- almost two feet in Jonesville -- flooded many areas throughout the region.
A spokesman for the National Weather Service (NWS) at Jackson, Miss., said maximum wind gusts of from 60 to 70 miles per hour were clocked in Concordia Parish when the eye wall passed nearby Monday and Tuesday.
NWS said winds of 15 miles per hour were expected to continue through much of the day Wednesday.
The Wildsville and Monterey areas of Concordia were the hardest hit, most parish officials agree, though not a community in the parish escaped damage.
Grocery stores lost virtually all of their perishable items and a run on gasoline from fleeing south Louisiana residents emptied the pumps here.
In spite of it all, not a injury or a death was reported locally as the storm moved through.
A breakdown on the storm and conditions today follows:
Police Jury President Melvin Ferrington said "roads basically are okay, but the drainage was a problem."
He said there was some flooding in the Concordia Park and Airport Road areas.
"The Poole Road was underwater this morning," he said.
Ferrington estimated that up to 15 inches of rain may have fallen in the parish.
Tom Matthews with the U.S. Corps of Engineers' Vidalia office said that "the water has to reach a certain elevation for the pumps to come on" at Wild Cow and Bayou Cocodrie.
He said the gravity-flow was "wide open" and noted Wednesday morning that "the pumps are expected to come on in the next several hours."
Ferrington said water "was backed up into the lakes. We had a crew go out to Lake St. John earlier this week to take out a dam where the water can get out a little quicker."
He said the parish "had to get the National Guard to come in with pumps, and sandbags were available at the Police Jury maintenance barn in addition to the correctional facility on Hwy. 15."
Ferrington said there were "some major leaks in the courthouse. There is some tile that may fall out in the courtroom, leaks in the clerk's office, in the bathroom of the Police Jury office, in the District Attorney's office, throughout the courthouse."
He said an emergency may have to be declared to deal with the problem.
"We will have a special meeting Monday night to address this and other problems," he said. "
"Our crews have been out throughout this storm opening roads for drainage and checking for trees and limbs and will be out until this situation clears," he said.
Concordia director of Homeland Security Morris White said anyone with problems or questions can call him at 318-757-8240 or 318-447-2109.
Sheriff Randy Maxwell said Wednesday that getting electrical power to all areas of the parish "is one thing that will make everybody feel better."
But he said areas inundated with water from flash flooding were a major concern.
"We have problems in low-lying areas," he said. "There are sand bags available at the correctional facility on Hwy. 15 and if people come by the inmates will put them in their vehicles."
He cautioned that area lakes "will be rising the next couple of days and if you have a pontoon or a boat house it may float off the lift. People need to check on that.
He said other than an attempt by thieves to break into an ATM in Ferriday during the storm earlier this week, that there were no problems relating to criminal activity.
Maxwell said the Monterey and Wildsville areas were the hardest hit by storm damage.
"There are trees across the road, on homes and a lot of outbuildings torn up," he said. "A lot of people still don't have power."
He estimated that the parish probably received a foot or more of rain since Sunday.
"The run-off is going to take two or three days to get out of here and that's without additional rainfall," he said.
Maxwell credited sheriff's office employees and work crews from the utility companies and the Police Jury for their work during the past few days.
"Everybody worked extremely well together," he said.
He said that until the weather breaks and all power restored that residents should stay put if they can.
"This is just for safety reasons," he said.
Ferriday Mayor Glen McGlothin said there is a boil water notice in Ferriday due to the power outage during the storm.
"We got through the storm but we were all hit hard," he said. "We don't have the resources or materials in Ferriday that other communities do, but we prepared for this as best we could."
He said he's never "received so many calls in my life than during the last few days. We appreciate everybody's help -- including the sheriff's office and Homeland Security. Morris White did a good job coordinating everything."
He also commended city employees.
"They've been out in the elements and doing everything they could," he said.
The town's water system shut down when the electricity went off.
McGlothin said that power is on throughout much of town today, although some residents were still without electricity Wednesday morning. He said "some sewer lift stations are still not working."
He said the town does not have generators.
"We've never had them," he said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't run any down because everything had been utilized down south."
He said the big problem with the water system is "the difference in locations of the water plant and our water source -- it's two and one-half miles. It would take two huge generators in two different locations to make our water system work."
He also said there is a major drainage problem in town.
"Ditches on Hwy. 15 are a problem and along Hwy. 84," said McGlothin. "We can't do anything on drainage outside of Ferriday even though that affects our drainage."
"We tried to blow out as many culverts as we could," he said. "We found clothing, trash and all kinds of materials stopping them up."
Riverland Medical Center administrator Vernon Stevens said the hospital in Ferriday ran off a generator for a full night and day until power was restored at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
"We did not have any damage and had a couple of evacuee patients and home care patients who need power for medical assistance," Stevens said. "It wasn't like last time (Hurricane Katrina) where we were inundated with people. There was a little inconvenience because of no air conditioning, but the staff handled everything well."
County Agent Glen Daniels said the outlook for crops wasn't good in the aftermath of Gustav although he hasn't assessed the situation parishwide.
"A lot of farmers made a big push to get their soybeans out before the storm hit, some cutting into the night to harvest," he said. "I'm sure the grade on the remaining crop will go down."
He said some crops may have been blown down, including part of the remaining 13,000-acre rice crop. About 35 percent of the rice harvest had been completed prior to the storm.
"Most of the corn and grain sorghum was harvested," he said, "and I don't think any of the cotton crop had been picked."
"I've noticed a lot of wet, stringy cotton and we won't know the story on the quality loss for a while," he said.
Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said electricity for residents and businesses has been restored except for isolated cases.
"We never lost water," Copeland said. "We did have some major damage due to some big trees falling on lines. We would have been okay except for some main feeder lines for Entergy coming from the Mississippi side and other side of Louisiana."
Copeland said most of the major damage was along Palm and Azalea streets.
"I want to commend our employees who were out for two and one-half days without any rest at all and the people of Vidalia who were very patient under the circumstances of a catastrophe coming through the area," he said. "And Gov. Bobby Jindal has done an outstanding job. You learn by past events and we certainly have learned some procedures that we can use in the future."
Copeland said about 25 evacuees stayed at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center, all from out of town.
"They have all gone back home and we didn't have anyone locally staying at the center," Copeland said.
Copeland said the scheduled grand opening of the conference center scheduled for Saturday has been postponed. Sen. Mary Landrieu was scheduled to appear at the event.
"Sen. Landrieu will be riding all over Louisiana checking out the damage," Copeland said.
Vidalia Police Chief Tapper Hendricks said his department worked a couple of accidents and prevented an attempted break-in at Continental Convenience Store.
"We had everybody out working," Hendricks said. "A lot of people stayed off the street. This was prime time for the criminal element to come out during the pitch dark. We did have an attempted break-in, but we were able to deter that because we had so many people out. I would say 90 percent of the people coming through and our residents were very courteous and treated the stoplights that were out as four-way stops."
Concordia Parish School Board President Gary Parnham said students will not attend public schools in the parish on Thursday.
Supt. Loretta Blankenstein said nine-month employees do not report to school Thursday, but all 10, 11 and 12-month employees will come in.
"We will assess our situation in all the schools and will announce on Thursday what our plans are," she said. "Tomorrow we will have a better idea."
Huntington School will not be open Thursday and a decision will be made on Thursday about school on Friday. The Huntington-Trinity game has been moved from Friday to Saturday at 5 p.m. at Trinity.
Adams County was apparently the worst hit area of Mississippi with wind gusts exceeding those recorded in Concordia. Damage was extensive throughout the parish and power was slowly being restored on Wednesday although some areas may not have a restoration of services until the weekend.
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