Cold weather blamed in at least one death

After making it through a night where temperatures dropped to 19 degrees in Baton Rouge, residents geared up for another night of cold and another hard freeze warning Tuesday night.

The recent cold weather, however, did cause at least one death in Opelousas as temperatures dropped to the low 20s across much of south Louisiana on Sunday night and early Monday morning.

Opelousas police Sgt. Jody White says Frances Cunha, 51, was taken by police to a friend’s house within seven blocks of where her body was found Monday. He said investigators don’t know why she was on the street, but do know she was subject to seizures and been released from a hospital Sunday in good health.

In Baton Rouge, temperatures still hovered at 32 degrees by noon Tuesday.

The National Weather Service forecast temperatures in the region would fall below freezing again by 6 p.m. and remain that way until at least 9 a.m. Wednesday.

There is warming in sight as temperatures are expected to rise overnight Wednesday and reach a balmy high of 64 by Thursday and 70 by Saturday.

However, the area had one more night to get through with 14 to 16 hours of below-freezing conditions, which has sent more people than ever looking for warmth and shelter.

St. Vincent de Paul had full houses at each of its shelters, including the new men’s shelter opened last year at the main campus that has 31 spaces but can accommodate more if needed.

On Monday night, 65 men took refuge there and the Plank Road shelter was also full as was the women and children’s shelter at the main campus, said Michael Acaldo, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul.

“We’ve never taken in that many people before,” he said.

And with that many more people as guests, he said, there is a need for towels, blankets and pillows that can help in the current cold snap and in the future as the winter moves forward, he said. Other items that can always be used include soap, shampoo and “anything that makes a home a home,” he said.

As the temperatures Tuesday night were expected to drop into the 20s, he said another large crowd was expected.

Although the number of people who need shelter has grown, Acaldo said it’s heartening to see how people pull together to help each other.

Tuesday morning, he said, several guests of the men’s shelter worked to make breakfast and coffee for the rest and others helped out in other ways.

“They were working so hard to feed the 65 guys,” Acaldo said.

Anyone with donations can drop them off at 1632 Convention St. or can call 383-7837 ext. 0.

Most of Baton Rouge made it through the first night of cold weather pretty well and fire departments didn’t report any unusual increase in fires although Eldon Ledoux, St. George Fire Protection District public information officer, said his department investigated several arching power lines. None of those power line issues caused a structure fire.

“I’d say we had a good night. No space heater problems,” Ledoux said.

Curt Monte, spokesman for the Baton Rouge Fire Department, also said it was a pretty typical evening.

“We had a few little fires but nothing out of the ordinary,” he said. “Overall it was a pretty safe night considering the temperature change here.”

State Police Troop A reported no weather-related traffic accidents in the greater Baton Rouge area and Entergy and DEMCO said they had fairly quiet nights as well.

Entergy said natural gas pressure seems to be holding up pretty well. However, in Zachary, the extra demand has meant that there has been low pressure in some areas of the city.

To ease the demand Mayor David Amrhein and city officials are urging all residents to conserve their gas consumption by lowering thermostats to 65 or 67 degrees, especially in the morning hours.

“Our metering stations are running at capacity,” he said.

He said the lines were monitored overnight and they found that in the morning when everyone got up to turn up the heat, the pressure went down. This is a temporary problem and the city has a $1 million upgrade to the system planned so the problem doesn’t happen in the future, Amrhein said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.