Experience made Isaac easier

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNISDavid Guillory, director of East Baton Rouge city-parish Department of Public Works, speaks at the Baton Rouge Press Club's weekly luncheon Monday.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNISDavid Guillory, director of East Baton Rouge city-parish Department of Public Works, speaks at the Baton Rouge Press Club's weekly luncheon Monday.

East Baton Rouge Parish officials “wrote the book” on hurricane preparedness after enduring Hurricane Gustav in 2008, which provided for a smooth recovery in the wake of Hurricane Isaac, city-parish Public Works Director David Guillory said Monday.

Hurricane Gustav, which took a $53 million toll on the Baton Rouge area, left 99 percent of residents and business owners without power at some point during or following the storm and resulted in an eight month debris cleanup effort, Guillory said, speaking to the Baton Rouge Press Club.

“Gustav is what set the standard for us,” Guillory said, who was appointed interim director less than two weeks before Isaac hit Baton Rouge in late August.

By comparison, Isaac ended up costing the parish $9 million in recovery and emergency preparedness costs, most of which will be reimbursed by state and federal dollars, Guillory said. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina cost East Baton Rouge Parish $29 million in debris cleanup and building damages, he said.

Debris collectors took in 230,000 cubic yards of debris after Isaac, Guillory said. Gustav generated 2 million cubic yards of debris, he said.

Initially, DPW predicted debris from Isaac would all be picked up off the street corners within 45 days, but the goal was completed within 30 days, Guillory said.

Hurricane Isaac also dropped only about 4 inches of rain in the parish when between 12 and 16 inches of rain were projected, Guillory said.

“Anything over 8 or 9 inches in a short time can cause damage because we’re very flat,” Guillory said.

Guillory said DPW workers and utility company employees visited sites together to ensure quicker response. Isaac downed 250 traffic signals, he said, and caused more than 160 road closures.

Guillory said a testament to the city-parish’s recovery effort was that the city-parish and utility companies were able to effectively get street lights operational and roads cleared for the LSU football home opener on Oct. 1 against North Texas, just two days after the storm passed.

One area the city-parish hopes to improve upon next time there’s a storm is ensuring sewage pumps remain operational by having generators at all pump stations, Guillory said.

There are more than 400 sewage pump stations in the parish, Guillory said, and many of them lost power during Isaac, which led to sewage overflows. During Isaac, there were only 75 generators in place at the pump stations, he said.

Guillory also said the city-parish regularly talks with Entergy about putting power lines underground, which minimizes outages during storms.

He said during new construction, when roads are widened or built, power lines are being installed underground.

“The problem is with older neighborhoods,” Guillory said, adding that the officials are still struggling to find a cost-effective solution to putting more existing lines underground.