LAKE CHARLES — The latest challenge to daily life in Lake Charles and vicinity is water pressure, several sources in that beleaguered Southwest Louisiana city suggested this week. Well, one of many challenges.
“Because of the demand and so many people dripping water, we are having a real struggle getting water pressure built up,” said Thomas Hoefer, spokesman for Calcasieu Parish government. That’s made a dramatic impact on operations in public buildings.
Battered twice by Hurricanes Laura and Delta in summer and autumn 2020, the parish of 200,000 residents has struggled to recover from the former storm’s 150 mph winds and the latter’s 20 inches of rain. Now they are dealing with the inability to shower or flush toilets because water systems are compromised by the freezing weather.
Parish government buildings were unable to open Thursday and were likely to remain closed Friday because of water-pressure issues that have plagued the whole community this week. Calcasieu Parish has numerous water systems, he said, and they were all struggling to generate adequate pressure.
There was more: All non-emergency surgeries were stopped at Christus Ochsner’s St. Patrick Hospital and Lake Area Hospital. The hospital’s emergency rooms remain open, while hospital staff planned to stand up various medical services throughout Thursday if possible.
Water pressure problems have led to widespread closures of health centers, but Christus Ochsner’s health centers are expected to re-open at 10 a.m. Friday “contingent on water pressure issues from the municipal system,” a news release said. Jim Davidson, president and CEO of Christus Ochsner Health Southwestern Louisiana, said the safety of patients and their staff is most important.
“We are working through the struggles presented by this historic winter weather event in our community,” Davison said in a statement Thursday. “Operational plans are in place to navigate water pressure issues from the municipal system and weather-related challenges affecting our entire area.”
Lake Charles Memorial paused elective surgeries and procedures amid water-pressure problems, but the hospital hopes to resume them Friday, said spokesman Matt Felder. They also expect to reopen several other parts of the hospital and some clinics on Friday.
Felder said that as of Thursday, water pressure was still low inside the hospital but that they’d used lessons from this year’s destructive hurricanes to maintain their operations. The hospital is having water trucked in from water treatment plants in other places, pumping it into their system and cleaning it to make it usable for hospital operations.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday that the state was working on setting up bottled water distribution sites in Lake Charles because of widespread problems with water pressure there.
Edwards said water is being shuttled to hospitals, including by using water capacity in firetrucks, to ensure that they have enough water to operate.
Edwards described the logistical problem of keeping water pressure up in Lake Charles as “very, very challenging,” noting that problems with the water system have lingered since the damage from Hurricanes Laura and Delta.
McNeese State University canceled classes until Monday, citing water-pressure issues; parish public schools will also close for the same reason and SOWELA, the public community college, will also close Thursday, but may reopen Friday. Again, water issues, SOWELA spokesperson Kelly Pepper said.
“Well, we have a lot of issues,” she added. Those included loss of power and water pressure at the homes of employees and students, who must address those issues themselves.
Candace Townsend, spokesperson for McNeese, said the campus appreciated the water pressure problems others in town were experiencing and opted to return to session next week, when things return to normal — “Whatever that is,” she added.
Hoefer said the parish was making progress before the latest setbacks caused by the winter weather.
Much of the debris along the roads had been addressed and roads themselves appeared to be improving. Then came the unseasonable wintry weather on top of everything else. It’s discouraging, he said, to see a pile of debris ready for removal but covered with snow.
Kayla Vincent, spokesperson for the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office, said people this week were dealing with intermittent power outages in addition to the water issues related to the weather.
“Roads seemed to be better earlier today,” she said, echoing sentiments expressed by patrol officers at the Sheriff’s Office.
Chief Deputy Gary "Stitch" Guillory said Hurricane Laura, which took roofs off the Calcasieu Correctional Center and the prison, alleviated the problem of what to do with prisoners there. All of the 1,100 prisoners housed by the sheriff when Hurricane Laura hit have been moved to other locations in the state, except for about 40 "trustys," who are assigned tasks at the jail.
He said his office had few weather-related problems: Interstate 10 was open, people mostly stayed indoors few parish roads were closed.
Hoefer said some Texans from around Houston may be fleeing water and power problems there by staying in Calcasieu Parish hotels. Two of the three casinos were open Thursday, although their occupancy is restricted by COVID-19 mandates.
“We really don’t have a whole lot of hotels,” he said. Many of them remained under repair after the hurricanes.
Still to be addressed is repairs for many homes that were damaged in the hurricanes, he said. Some people in the area are living in temporary housing, including trailers and even tents. He said the recent freeze created havoc for some of them, especially when pipes used in their water hook-ups burst this week.