New Roads revelers brave frigid weather at parades

A little bit of sleet, some freezing rain and a chilly day didn’t stop the small but hardy group of revelers from lining New Roads streets Tuesday to celebrate Mardi Gras.

But the wintry mix of precipitation and freezing temperatures that forced state officials to temporarily shut down several major thoroughfares Mardi Gras morning did thin out the crowds that watched the city’s two annual parades roll through downtown streets this year.

“I heard people say this is one of the lowest turnouts ever,” Mayor Robert Myer said. “The rain was one thing, but when you had bridges closed from four different directions, that diverted a lot of people from coming. The visitors who did come got to see a nice show and they’ll come back another time.”

Much of the Baton Rouge region woke up to freezing temperatures, combined with sleet and freezing rain on Fat Tuesday that iced over a number of roads, bridges and interstate overpasses.

Around 6 a.m., the Louisiana State Police shut down a portion of Interstate 10, in both directions, through the Atchafalaya Basin after an 18-wheeler jack-knifed at Whiskey Bay. Officials diverted the westbound traffic to U.S. 190 at La. 415 in Port Allen.

Then a portion of U.S. 190 near Krotz Springs Bridge was closed around 7:30 a.m. due to ice.

Even the U.S. 190 Old Bridge and the Audubon Bridge were temporarily closed to traffic due to icy conditions.

Temperatures Tuesday remained below freezing until around noon when the temperature inched up into the high 30s.

The chilly, wet morning didn’t stop the 92nd annual Community Center of Pointe Coupee Parade from missing its 11 a.m. kick-off time. The morning parade was then followed by the 71st annual Lions Club Parade which rolled through downtown New Roads around 2 p.m.

However, both parades were a little shorter this year after most of the high school bands that were scheduled to appear were forced to cancel due to the road closures.

Madison High School, from Tallulah, was the only band out of the six that were invited to attend that was able to make it into the city to march in the Lions Club parade.

“We received calls early on from different bands and floats saying they couldn’t get through,” Myer said. “Our number one concern was safety, so we understood.”

Debbie Debourg was one of the Baton Rouge residents at Tuesday’s festivities. She avoided all the road closures by heading out to New Roads around 6 a.m. Tuesday.

“I am surprised. Usually rain doesn’t stop us,” Debourg said, surveying the thin crowd before the parades began. “You can’t give up on Mardi Gras. This was a treat for me. I didn’t have to work today so I had to come down.”

New Roads resident Evelyn Major attended the parades with her granddaughter. She said she wasn’t going to let cold and rain spoil their fun.

“We decided we were going to tough it out and have a good time,” she said.

And those who did attend had their fun while bundled up in scarves and thick coats while shielding themselves from the freezing rain with umbrellas and ponchos.

The theme of the 2014 New Roads parades was “Louisiana Holidays and Festivals.”

The floats that made up the roster of entries in both parades paid tribute to some of the state’s most popular annual festivals such as. the Alligator Festival in St. Charles Parish, the state’s Crawfish Festival and New Roads’ own Harvest Festival.

The House of Louis, a popular family krewe in the Community Center parade, was one of the few double-decker floats featured in one of Louisiana’s oldest parades — following only Rex, Proteus and Zulu.

The Louis Family float was a tribute to New Orleans’ annual Essence Music Festival.

Several members of the family stood atop their float dressed as old-school R&B band Maze featuring Frankie Beverly while others second-line danced, with umbrellas, on the streets below.

“They’ve been rehearsing for about a month,” James Louis said. “Every year, we look forward to this.”