Local officials are warning people to keep their ditches and storm drains clear of debris from Hurricane Ida as a new tropical storm stirs off the Texas Gulf Coast and promises heavy rain across the Baton Rouge area this week.
Tropical Storm Nicholas could bring 4 to 10 inches of rain through Thursday night as the storm sweeps across the central and southern parts of Louisiana, federal forecasters say.
Two weeks after the heavy winds of the Category 4 Ida wrecked homes, tree canopies, roofs and power lines, disaster contractors in the Baton Rouge area have only started to make a dent in the piles of debris, highlighting one of the logistical complications of an active hurricane season.
In some local parishes, roadside debris cleanup began about a week ago and is expected to take weeks more to complete, officials said.
"Debris contractors are working hard, but they simply cannot pick up the entire parish in the next 48 hours," Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment said in a statement Monday. "Please help us to help you: clear your ditches if you can, don’t let debris block drainage, be a good neighbor and help your neighbors with their ditches."
Officials in Livingston and East Baton Rouge parishes made similar pleas.
In East Baton Rouge, two city-parish disaster contractors have cleared 87,000 cubic yards of woody waste and other debris from Ida in about a week, more than was collected after the February ice storm, a collection that lasted four to six weeks.
But, all three debris passes in East Baton Rouge aren't expected to be finished clearing up an estimated 400,000 cubic yards of waste from Ida until shortly before Thanksgiving. Like contractors in Livingston Parish, though, debris contractors in East Baton Rouge are trying to do as much as possible in the first month in order to obtain higher federal reimbursement rate for work done soon after the storm, city-parish officials added.
G. Richard Speer, city-parish director of environmental services, said the parish has two contractors, DRC Emergency Services and AshBritt, who have divided East Baton Rouge Parish in half to collect debris.
It's not likely leaders in East Baton Rouge Parish will give in to residents' demands for a moratorium on development — at least not any time soon.
In addition, city-parish workers have also cleared more than 3.6 million pounds of debris from more than 3,200 storm drains and other drainage structures. That clean-up began about six weeks before Ida made landfall in late August, officials said.
Mark Armstrong, city-parish spokesman, said officials are urging residents to clear up leaves and other loose debris from Ida to preserve the improvement created by the storm drain cleanout.
Kelvin Hill, assistant chief administrative officer for East Baton Rouge's Department of Public Works, said officials need ditches and drain boxes clear so runoff will flow when Nicholas and other storms hit.
"I've noticed as I've driven through the parish that there are a lot of debris getting stacked in the ditches. Please don't do that," Hill said. "You can put it on the side of the ditch, or the side of your property in the right of way, but don't put it in the ditch because we still want things to drain."
Brandi Janes, the Livingston Parish homeland security director, said it's not the first time southeast Louisiana residents have faced back-to-back hurricanes or tropical storms. She pointed to Hurricane Rita following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Ike following Hurricane Gustav in 2008.
"That's just the nature of this season every year. Last year, if we'd actually gotten hit, it would have been numerous storms hitting us back to back to back. It's just it's that time of year," she said.
In 2020, the hurricane season broke a record with 30 named storms, 11 of which made landfall in the United States. If the 2021 lives up to its above average prediction, it will be a record sixth consecutive season with an above normal number of named storms.
The Atlantic hurricane season lasts June 1 to Nov. 30.
The Times-Picayune/The Advocate reporter Mark Schleifstein contributed to this story.