Much of the state remained bleak in the wake of a deadly winter storm that pierced Louisiana this week as nearly a million residents remained under boil-water advisories and 125,000 were without electricity in frigid temperatures as of noon Thursday, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
Of those without power, about 20,000 — mostly in the Baton Rouge and Tangipahoa Parish areas — have been in the dark since Monday. Edwards said most should have their electricity restored by Thursday evening.
The storm disabled 98 water utilities across the state, leaving more than 245,000 residents without a source of potable water. Numerous other water utilities sustained damages that have forced boil-water advisories for about 956,000 people, the governor said.
The winter storm swept across Louisiana and a large swath of the Deep South on Monday and left much of the state crippled through the week with frozen power lines, burst water pipes, and iced roads. It brought snow, sleet, freezing rain and abnormally low temperatures well into the twenties and teens in areas from Shreveport to as far south as Plaquemines Parish.
President Joe Biden on Thursday approved the governor’s request for a federal disaster declaration for all 64 parishes.
So far, 960 Louisiana National Guard soldiers and airmen have deployed to assist emergency operations officials, and more are expected to deploy in the coming days, the governor said. The military is assisting primarily with distributing drinking water to residents and supplying power generators to critical infrastructure. Guardsmen had distributed about 28,000 bottles of water — mostly in Northwest Louisiana — as of noon Thursday.
“We’re also working on bottled water distribution sites in places like Lake Charles,” Edwards said. “Obviously, the infrastructure in Lake Charles remains compromised from Hurricane Laura. Their water system is struggling because they have so many leaks on the private side of their distribution system. Many of those structures are no longer inhabited, so keeping that water pressure up to serve the community has proven to be very very challenging.”
Due to the low water pressure in Lake Charles, hospitals and critical facilities there are relying on a constant relay of fire trucks to supply their water. The National Guard is using 5,000-gal. tanks to supply water to facilities in Alexandria, Shreveport and elsewhere, Edwards said.
The Louisiana Department of Health has confirmed three weather-related deaths: a 50-year-old Carencro man slipped on ice and struck his head on the ground; a 74-year-old Lafayette woman died of exposure to the cold; and a 77-year-old Calcasieu Parish man slipped into a swimming pool and drowned. A fourth — that of a homeless man who froze to death in downtown Shreveport — has yet to be classified by state health officials but has been reported by multiple new agencies.
State offices in 36 parishes, as well as many local government offices, remained closed Thursday due to the hazardous weather. Roads remained covered with ice, sleet and snow in northern parts of the state, creating “very treacherous” driving conditions, the governor said. Many highways and portions of interstates remain closed, particularly those north of the I-10/I-12 corridor. It’s unclear when those will reopen. Motorists should check for updates on 511la.org or by calling 511.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne announced that state offices will remain closed for nonessential personnel in the following 29 parishes on Friday, Feb. 19, due to hazardous conditions caused by the severe winter weather: Avoyelles, Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Catahoula, Claiborne, Concordia, DeSoto, East Carroll, Franklin, Grant, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Madison, Morehouse, Natchitoches, Ouachita, Rapides, Red River, Richland, Sabine, Tensas, Union, Vernon, Webster, West Carroll, and Winn.
Agency heads are responsible for determining those essential personnel who should remain on duty, report for duty or those who should report to alternate work sites as necessary. State employees can check for updates by calling (225) 342-0498 or toll free (800) 360-9660.