That statement from Natchitoches Mayor Ronnie Williams aptly sums up the response to our recent unprecedented cold snap. A combination of prolonged below freezing temperatures, snow and freezing rain brought down trees and power lines throughout the parish. The cold caused pipes to freeze and burst, further stressing water systems throughout the area. Roads were rendered impassible by ice, further complicating relief efforts. The past week has posed a monumental challenge!
Bucket trucks and the roar of chain saws were a ubiquitous presence as crews worked virtually around the clock to restore power to critical installations and homes. They fixed downed lines, cut away fallen trees and replaced components such as transformers. All of these repairs took place in temperatures well below freezing and with components often covered in ice. The Journal met up with two crews from Lafayette who had come up to Natchitoches to lend a hand. They, and our city’s crews, restored power to 99% of the city in the space of a few days, a truly impressive feat, especially considering the extent of the outage and the miserable working conditions.
Electrical power was not the only challenge facing our community. The extreme cold caused pipes to freeze and burst all over the parish. Crews drove the streets, looking for evidence of leaks. They assisted homeowners in shutting off their water supply if they had a leak and were unable to do so. They continue to work to restore water service to areas cut off and to bring the water pressure up in the entire system.
The extreme weather conditions, power and water failures can create a dangerous and potentially deadly situation for our community’s most vulnerable residents. Community leaders, the Red Cross and government quickly worked together to establish a warming shelter at the MLK Community Center. One could charge phones, get out of the cold weather and have a safe, warm place to spend the night. It was a literal lifesaver.
Law enforcement throughout the parish assisted stranded drivers and assisted with spotting downed powerlines and water leaks. They also provided security at the warming shelter. The Fire Department was on the alert for house fires caused by increased heater use. They also delivered water to keep essential facilities operating. Emergency Medical Services kept the ambulances running for the safety of our citizens.
Natchitoches Sheriff Stuart Wright and Mary Jones, Assistant Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for the parish, arranged with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness for shipments of bottled water. Parish President John Richmond had the water sent to fire stations throughout the parish for citizens who needed it. Parish governmental employees also assisted with clearing roads and removing downed trees.
The foremost responsibility of a government is public safety. If a state fails there, nothing else they do really matters all that much. I spent much of the past few days in town, driving and walking around. What I saw in our city restored my faith in the essential goodness of our fellow citizens and of the competence of the men and women of local government when it really counts. Time and again, over the past week, I have seen people doing hard, physical, and occasionally dangerous work, yet I never saw anyone being anything less than cheerful in what were cold, wet and miserable conditions.
Police officers and deputies manned barricades, directed traffic, kept information flowing and assisted countless numbers of their fellow citizens. The officers and deputies were often assisted in rescues by ordinary citizens who saw a need and pitched in. The Fire Department responded to calls, the ambulance service assisted victims and the Utility Department got the power going. The white city trucks have been a constant presence on the streets as workers respond to calls, proactively look for potential problems and tirelessly work, often soaked by water leaks in freezing temperatures, to get the water system back up. Men and women all over the parish are working with a quiet competence that is truly impressive. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for a job well done!