LAFAYETTE — Just as Acadiana thawed from last week’s cold blast, a stronger Arctic front threatened south Louisiana and prompted officials to close schools and government offices as police beefed up patrols on roads and bridges that could ice up again after the front hits Tuesday.
Unlike last week’s freeze, this front will bring temperatures below freezing for a longer period, and the ice will be accompanied by high winds. The combination of ice and wind could wreak havoc on trees and electric transmission lines, causing them to fall and pose electrocution dangers, or power outages, officials said.
“This is an event that is expected to affect all of Acadiana,” State Police Trooper 1st Class Stephen Hammons said.
Hammons said state and local police would close roads only if ice forms and poses a danger to motorists.
“There will be no preemptive road closures,” Hammons said.
He said the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and State Police would try to keep Interstates 10 and 49 as well as U.S. 90 open, which might mean diverting traffic to service roads to avoid elevated overpasses.
Echoing police agencies across Acadiana, St. Mary Parish Sheriff Mark Hebert said Monday that residents should stock up on necessities and stay off the roads unless it’s necessary.
“Weather forecasters are predicting more ice during the upcoming cold weather event than what (was) experienced Friday and Saturday,” Hebert said. “Residents are advised to keep themselves and their families informed on the latest weather predictions. Once conditions have the potential to be hazardous, residents should avoid traveling.”
Lafayette City-Parish Director of Public Works Tom Carroll said Monday afternoon the city was trying to acquire a few hundred pounds of road salt to de-ice the bridges on Surrey Street, East University Avenue and Camellia Boulevard if it becomes necessary.
It’s not the type of material that a south Louisiana city normally keeps on hand, and it took a little research to determine how much was needed and how it should be spread.
The first application of salt on the three bridges was tentatively planned for early Tuesday morning, Carroll said.
During last week’s freeze, police closed all bridges over the Vermilion River except the Pinhook Road Bridge. Traffic snarled as every driver seeking to cross the river was funneled to the Pinhook Road bridge.
Lafayette police Cpl. Paul Mouton said this time the department would try to keep Ambassador Caffery Parkway open by placing officers where it crosses the Vermilion River and lowering the speed limit there from 50 mph to 35 mph.
He said the Ambassador Caffery crossing was closed during the freeze Friday and Saturday because the 50-mph speed limit was too fast to risk a car hitting ice.
Meanwhile, public schools in Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary and Vermilion parishes will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday, officials said.
South Louisiana Community College campuses and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will be closed Tuesday.
Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel declared a “state of emergency” Monday afternoon in anticipation of the impending winter storm.
“We are encouraging people to stay home, especially on Tuesday, and pay attention to media outlets,” Durel said in a written statement. “We don’t want you to put yourselves or your family at risk. In addition, we don’t want to put our emergency personnel in harm’s way.”
In St. Landry Parish, residents are being placed on a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew beginning Tuesday and lasting until 6 a.m. Thursday.
“This curfew is being put into effect to save lives and property,” Parish President Bill Fontenot said in a release.
In Iberia Parish, sheriff’s deputies will be stationed along U.S. 90 at overpasses, and will begin detouring motorists to service roads if the overpasses start to ice up, Sheriff’s Office Capt. Ryan Turner said.
At the Travel Centers of America’s Lafayette location where big-rig truck drivers stop to fuel up, eat and sleep, trucker Robert Butler waited on mechanics to fix the engine in his 18-wheeler.
On Friday, when the freeze hit, he was eastbound on I-10 coming from Texas.
It took him seven hours to get to Lafayette from the Texas-Louisiana line, and he limped into the truck stop at I-10 and University Avenue.
On Monday, he fretted over whether his truck would be fixed in time to escape the freeze that was coming. He was especially worried about getting across the Atchafalaya Basin on I-10, which was closed Friday because of ice and reopened Saturday afternoon.
“I’m trying my best to get to the other side of that bridge before they shut me down,” said Butler, who was trying to get home to Columbia, S.C.
Louisiana motorists or others experiencing an emergency and need help from the State Police can dial VLSP for assistance. For a State Police list of road closures, dial 511.
Anyone needing assistance in Lafayette Parish can call 911, Lafayette Police Cpl. Paul Mouton said.
Acadiana Advocate reporters Richard Burgess and Marsha Sills contributed to this story.