LAPLACE – The three sister parishes of the River Region tensed in preparation for a storm that turned out to be a non-issue this weekend, but safe is always better than sorry.
Tropical Storm Karen developed quickly after lingering for many days off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, with 60 mph winds by Thursday morning, shaking residents from the comfortable dormancy caused by a relatively peaceful storm season. Many were afraid the storm could end up being another surprise like Hurricane Isaac.
Karen dissipated on Sunday, Oct. 6, about 135 kilometers west of the mouth of the Mississippi River, according to a public advisory issued by the National Hurricane Center. Satellite imagery indicated that the center of the storm was no longer well defined, thus nullifying its status as a tropical cyclone. The remnants of Karen were seen moving eastward at around 13 mph and were expected to continue to move generally eastward during the early portion of the week, producing rainfall accumulations of one to three inches over portions of the Central Gulf Coast and southeastern states.
St. John the Baptist, St. Charles and St. James parishes all united in their efforts to begin preventative measures as soon as the storm became conspicuous.
St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom said the measures they took were consistent with what they’ve done every year since 2010, though preparations are always made based on the best forecast available. Robottom declared a state of emergency on Friday morning. Sandbag stations were also set up in several locations throughout the Parish.
“Sometimes it’s less than what’s anticipated and sometimes it’s more. What’s more important is that we continued to monitor the track for Karen — we monitored all the way through Sunday. We’re kind of glad it was a non-event, and we looked at it as a trial run, as we did for the tropical storm in August. After every event we have an after-action meeting where we discuss what happened, how to do it better and what changes needed to be made,” she said.
Robottom also mentioned changes to the water system, such as upgraded water lines in Reserve and interim water source connections to St. Charles Parish. The parish president continues to advise St. John residents to sign up for emergency notifications using the Stay Connected system.
Timmy Roussel, the president of St. James Parish, said parish officials began holding meeting with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness at the beginning of the month in preparation for the storm. Roussel also said parish administrators decided not to break out the sandbags just yet, though sand piles were available in the parish.
“In listening to the reports, we didn’t get nervous with it. Working with GOHSEP, we knew that the worst thing we would see from it (Karen) would be fallen trees across the highway. We had the chainsaws go home in parish trucks to be at the ready position. Yes, we had sand piles, but we didn’t want to put the sandbags there unless we knew we really needed them. Other than that, we kind of put the rest in God’s hands,” said Roussel.
Emergency essential staff members remained on standby throughout he weekend. Roussel said that parish officials made it a point to pick up and tie down loose materials and fill the gas tanks of parish vehicles ahead of time.
St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said the parish began operational meetings with Emergency Operations Staff and industry representatives on Thursday. In addition, parish officials began pumping canals down to required levels at the beginning of the month, fueled all pumping stations and closed the canal gate at U.S. Highway 90, based on requirements from Army Corps of Engineers. St. Pierre said the parish ran models based on the information they obtained about Tropical Storm Karen and compared it with data collected from previous storms.
“We have a track of every storm — where it went, wind speeds, temperatures and all of that. We compare it with existing information we have to kind of give us an idea of what the possibilities might be. We saw it was a lesser impact than what even the national weather service had. They said it wasn’t going to be that big of a storm, and we thought it’d be even less than what they were saying.”
All things considered, St. Pierre said he was happy with his parish’s performance.
“Everybody was ready to go. All of our departments did a great job, and luckily it was a non-event.”