Schools close; residents stay home; officials improve road response
LAFAYETTE — Lafayette Parish Schools will remain closed Thursday due to the expected below-freezing temperatures expected in the morning as students await buses and the need for maintenance staff to ensure school buildings are prepared for students.
Central office staff, maintenance personnel and custodians are expected to report to work by 10:30 a.m. when road conditions are safe, said Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper in a news release.
Evangeline, St. Landry and St. Martin Parish also decided to remain closed Thursday.
Other districts across Acadiana plan to reopen Thursday: Acadia, Iberia, St. Mary and Vermilion.
South Louisiana Community College and University of Louisiana at Lafayette will also reopen Thursday.
St. Martin Parish Schools Superintendent Lottie Beebe said she had decided to reopen schools Thursday, but due to anticipated low water pressure in the Cecilia she reversed the decision.
Streets within Lafayette and the parish have thawed, prompting Lafayette Police to reopen all lanes of travel on the Camellia Boulevard bridge and the overpass at Ambassador Caffery Parkway and Cameron Street.
A traffic advisory is in effect for Lafayette parish from dusk Wednesday until 10 a.m. Thursday — specifically for overpasses and elevated roadways, said Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Capt. Kip Judice.
“Temperatures are expected to drop below 32 degrees early this evening and any moisture will refreeze on bridges and elevated roadways. Overnight and early Thursday morning travel is discouraged,” Judice wrote in an email.
As of 2:45 p.m. Wednesday, there were no street closures within the city of Lafayette, said Lafayette Police Cpl. Paul Mouton in an email.
As of 3:30 p.m., Interstate 10 from I-49 to Baton Rouge eastbound remained closed, Judice said.
As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development crews were at Cargill Salt prepared to load trucks with salt to spread on the Basin Bridge later this afternoon, said DOTD officials.
Law enforcement officials are still urging drivers to stay off roads and area shelters prepared for another night of providing emergency relief from below-freezing temperatures.
The St. Joseph’s Shelter for Men planned to purchase more cots Wednesday to accommodate an increase in the number of men seeking a warm place to sleep. To help, visit catholicservice.org/Donate.
Between midnight and 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Lafayette Police investigated five reported crashes with the city with minor or no injuries, wrote Lafayette Police Cpl. Paul Mouton in an email.
The Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office reported 10 crashes between 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday. That tally rose to 33 crashes by 10:30 a.m., according to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Kip Judice.
“Conditions remain bad on most roads and overpasses in Lafayette Parish,” Judice wrote in an e-mail.
Most of Acadiana stayed home Tuesday and prepared for a night of sleet and freezing rain from an arctic cold front that rolled through south Louisiana, icing bridges and overpasses and forcing road crews throughout the day to de-ice thoroughfares and police to close the roads that did freeze. Most schools, including UL-Lafayette, are closed Wednesday as well.
Lafayette Police closed the Camellia Blvd bridge to all traffic because of icing. All other bridges within Lafayette remain open except for the Ambassador Caffery overpass at Cameron Street.
“It’s kind of a wait and see on how high the temperatures rise (on Wednesday),” Lafayette police Cpl. Paul Mouton said.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service called for a low temperature of 21 Tuesday night with accompanying sleet and snow, warming to 37 degrees with plenty of sunshine Wednesday.
However, Troop I Trooper 1st Class Stephen Hammons said some meteorologists thought clouds could block the sun well into Wednesday, prolonging the freeze.
“It all depends on will there be cloud cover or not,” Hammons said.
The inclement weather, a cold blast that south Louisiana doesn’t experience often, prompted officials in St. Martin, Acadia and Evangeline to issue parishwide dusk-to-dawn curfews, while city officials in Opelousas ordered residents to stay home between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday morning.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which closed Tuesday, announced classes and university operations will resume on Thursday.
The weather also forced officials to close public and private schools and government offices Tuesday and Wednesday.
Gov. Bobby Jindal deployed 450 Louisiana National Guardsmen to south Louisiana, including Lafayette and Opelousas, to help keep ice off the roads, and State Police closed Interstate 10 from Interstate 49 in Lafayette to Lobdell Highway in West Baton Rouge Parish, detouring eastbound and westbound traffic to U.S. 190.
Highway workers also kept U.S. 90 open, though some overpasses were closed and traffic detoured to service roads.
State highway officials and State Police were monitoring the roads deemed most likely to freeze and cause problems, Hammons said.
Officials in Lafayette compared notes after the freeze on Friday that forced the closure of four of the five bridges that span the Vermilion River. The closures of the four bridges funneled all vehicles to the Pinhook Road bridge, tying traffic in a knot.
This time, Lafayette public works employees laid down a mixture of sand and salt on roads and the bridges. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, all five Vermilion River bridges in Lafayette remained open.
The lack of vehicles on Lafayette roads Tuesday was noticeable, with most heeding police pleas to stay home.
“There’s been a significant reduction in traffic,” Hammons said about the entire Troop I area, which covers eight parishes in Acadiana.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette visual arts major Jacob Cordes, of New Orleans, said there was little to do Tuesday but stay inside. He said that on Friday, as the other cold front dumped sleet and snow on Lafayette, he and friends sledded down the hills of Girard Park.
“There’s not really a lot to do today unless it starts to snow later,” Cordes said after he ate lunch at the on-campus dining hall.
“In this weather, you don’t really want to do anything but stay inside,” he said.
At Girard Park on Tuesday, Russia native Sergey Kondrashov was the lone jogger in temperatures that never climbed out of the 20s.
He said he prefers to run in the kind of weather that hit Acadiana this week and last. Kondrashov said it reminds him of jogging in Russia during the fall.
In north Lafayette, where icicles hanging from a red awning greeted customers at the Waffle House, waitress Gail Broussard tallied the receipts at the end of a long shift.
She said the diner, unlike many businesses in Acadiana, didn’t close because of cold weather.
“Waffle House never closes. Never,” Broussard said.
The restaurant, as usual, was packed at breakfast and lunch Tuesday with locals and truck drivers from the nearby Travel Center of America’s Lafayette location.
“They wanted their food,” she said.