BELLE ROSE — At Bayou Corne on Saturday, percussion grenades blasted through the usually quiet community that's been mostly deserted since a sinkhole forced residents who once lived there to evacuate.

The Assumption Parish Sheriff’s Office’s SWAT team used one of the abandoned homes on the north side of La. 70 for approach-and-breach training.

Most of the former Bayou Corne residents have accepted buyouts from Texas Brine Co. In August 2012, a sinkhole caused by a collapsed underground mine operated by Texas Brine forced evacuations. Safety issues associated with sinkhole later led to the buyouts.

Before Texas Brine completes demolition of the homes it purchased in Bayou Corne, the company has offered the structures to first responders for training exercises. The Assumption Parish Sheriff’s Office’s SWAT team and Pierre Part Volunteer Fire Department were the first to take advantage of the offer.

Chief Deputy Bruce Prejean supervised SWAT teams Saturday as they took turns approaching and breaching a home on Jambalaya Street.

“Don’t choke,” Prejean instructed. “Don’t stop. Make it happen.”

Fifteen members the Sheriff’s Office’s SWAT team, suited up in their green uniforms and helmets and bulletproof vests, participated. And the Sheriff’s Office’s SWAT truck sat imposingly on Jambalaya Street. 

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Teams of three repeatedly approached the house in single file, led by an officer in front carrying a shield. The teams broke more than a dozen of the house’s windows during the exercises. After each window breach, a team member tossed percussion grenades into the house. The grenades exploded with a mighty pop, releasing pepper spray.

In addition to busting windows and throwing grenades, the SWAT teams executed a blast breach on the lock of a metal door. A powerful round of compressed zinc shattered the lock. Another member of the SWAT team deployed a buzzing drone to record the action with video and still photography.

“Be careful, be safe,” Prejean cautioned his men during one of a nearly a dozen approach-and-breach exercises.

During a break from the training, Prejean said the chance to use real homes for SWAT training is a rare opportunity.

“There aren’t many opportunities for us to do real live drills, real action drills, where we deploy percussion grenades,” Prejean said.

Later on Saturday, larger SWAT teams participated in room-to-room searches at another Jambalaya Street address.

On the south side of La. 70, the Pierre Part Volunteer Fire Department spent Saturday morning at an Acadian-style house that faced the highway. Department personnel worked throughout last week to prepare the house for the exercise. Preparations included placing mannequins in the house that would later be rescued.

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The firefighting training began when the Pierre Part volunteers rescued four mannequins from the smoke-filled home’s first and second floors. The smoke was the manufactured kind, not the product of a real blaze.

“They did a search and rescue,” Chief Don Breaux said. “They also breached the doors to gain entry to the house. A deadbolt makes it real tough. But they did great. They went in and found the victims and pulled them out.”

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The Pierre Part firefighters on hand were a mix of veterans and rookies.

“We don’t get to do this often,” Breaux said. “But we did a lot of scenarios here today. They learned a lot of lessons. Unfortunately, the hot temperature is real tough on us today, but that’s also real life.”

Following the search-and-rescue operation, fire fighters lit two pallets under the home’s central stairwell. Within 15 minutes, the front room was engulfed in flames. In 20 minutes, the home’s entire interior was ablaze. In less than 45 minutes, fire consumed the steep roof. The intense heat generated by the burning house could be felt almost to La. 70. One firefighter became overheated.

“It probably will burn the rest of the day,” Breaux said.

Saturday’s activities also included Texas Brine’s presentation of its first Community Service Award. Brad Collins, pastor of Community Worship Center in Belle Rose, received the honor. Following the 2016 tornado that ripped through Dorseyville and Paincourtville, Collins and his church vetted the recipients of homes donated by Texas Brine and moved from Bayou Corne.

Bruce Martin, President of United Brine Services Co., presented Collins with the Texas Brine award and a pledge to donate $1,000 to the charity of the pastor’s choice.

“Brad said, ‘I’ve got people whose houses are gone,” Martin said. “I said, ‘We have a lot of houses. Come take what you want.’ ”

More than 60 Bayou Corne structures have been relocated. While the first 14 houses went to people who lost homes in the tornado, subsequent houses have been given to others in need.

Ten Bayou Corne residents who opted out of the Texas Brine buyout still live in the community. Meanwhile, first responders will use vacant Bayou Corne houses for training until Texas Brine has demolished all of the properties it owns. Texas Brine would like to see the area restored to wetlands, Martin said.