Saturday, September 24

Riding out the storm

Hurricane Rita roared her way into Beauregard and Vernon parishes early Saturday, and stayed for a spell.

She danced with the trees, leaving thousands of them bent, broken or grounded in her wake. Several pitched onto homes, vehicles and roadways.

At the height of the storm, sustained winds early Saturday topped more than 100 mph. By 4 p.m. Saturday, Rita’s presence could still be felt in the area, with gusts up to 50 mph.

The winds steadily increased from late Friday into Saturday. They made a howling arrival, and immediately began peeling shingles, tin and metal sheeting off roofs, downing power lines and trees. Electrical services in both Beauregard and Vernon parishes were also victims of Rita. By 1:15 a.m. Saturday, both parishes were without electrical service.

The high winds delayed crews from beginning the lengthy task of removing trees and limbs from lines and stringing new ones in their place.

A scanner brought a continual flow of Rita-related developments.

At 12:20 p.m. Rosepine Police Chief Dennis Parrott said a water main on Louisiana Avenue behind the elementary school had broke, further soaking the saturated soil.

At the same time, emergency officials decided to send buses to move evacuees at South Beauregard High School to DeRidder High School once conditions improved.

Evacuees at the shelter complained of the conditions Friday through Saturday. The Southwest Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross was seeing to their needs, including providing meals.

At 2:30 p.m. Phelps Correctional Center reported winds in excess of 100 mph and the sheet metal roofing was coming off. The prison also reported its cellular telephone service had been knocked out by the storm.

As some of the highest sustained winds arrived, an evacuee in need of a cigarette, ventured outside the shelter he was staying at 2:35 a.m. Saturday, prompting a warning from lawmen to go inside.

However, the evacuee told lawmen that if he did not get his “smoke” he would leave. Their response: “If that’s what he wants to do, let him go.”

At 3:35 a.m. Saturday, the National Weather Service warned the Beauregard Parish Sheriff’s Office to be prepare for sustained 100 mph for at least two to three hours.

About 10 minutes later, a lawmen commented on his radio that: “This looks like a war zone” on North Texas Street and Park Road. He also reported numerous downed trees, power lines and debris.

Shortly before daybreak Saturday, DeRidder police reported a home on Pecan Street with two tress across it.

Numerous such complaints came in throughout Saturday.

At 5 a.m., the Vernon Parish Sheriff’s Office reported communication problems. They also reported countless downed trees, power lines and structural damage.

Nearly two hours later, the Beauregard Parish Sheriff’s Training Center’s emergency generator gave out.

Three minutes, later, a Beauregard deputy radioed in Graybow Road — a major parish artery — was “completely blocked” at the railroad crossing by downed trees.

Saturday’s sunrise arrived at 6:50 a.m., giving many their first glimpse of Rita’s devastation.

Early Saturday it was reported that the U.S. 165 overpass over Interstate 10 had collapsed.

However, at 8:03 a.m., a member of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, reported the overpass was “OK,” along with several others in the area.

At 8:06 a.m., Glen Mears Sr., director of the Beauregard Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, reported that only one of the parish’s many shelters sustained storm-related damage. He had no reports of any deaths or injuries.

Jamie Fletcher, owner of Louisiana Awards in DeRidder, was one of the many in the parish that did not evacuate.

“I went to bed at 10 p.m. when the power went out,” he said. “This was as good a place as any to be.”

Fletcher said his business only suffered minor leaks. He said he awoke at 7 a.m. and went out to assess the damage around him.’

In Vernon Parish, Louisiana State Police Troop E, Alexandria, spokesman Trooper Jeff Covington said most state highways in the parish had been cleared, but a portion of U.S. 171 between Rosepine and Pickering was blocked by a down tree.

Covington said many of the parish road were impassable because they were littered with downed trees and power lines. He said the structural damage was reported to be minimal.

Many homes and businesses in DeRidder suffered structural damage, mainly to the roofs, signs, outbuildings and garages.

There were reports of mobile homes in Beauregard being destroyed by the storm.

As day gave way to night, people in DeRidder could be seen venturing out of their homes to look at the damages.

Many appeared to wander around aimlessly, with dazed looks on their faces.

Lawmen and other emergency responders and officials spent Saturday clearing trees, lines and debris and starting damage assessments.

Shawn Martin
Beauregard News Bureau Chief


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the news on DeRidder and Beauregard Parish. We decided to evacuate and are staying in Fort Worth, so we greatly appreciate the local news, with descriptions of damage at specific locations. Best regards and be safe.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update. 17 years ago, I met you in Dr. Pullig's speech class at MSU.

Be Brave!