JBE meets with local officials on storm

Gov. John Bel Edwards met with Baton Rouge-area officials to discuss Tropical Storm Barry on Friday, July 12, 2019. The officials are state Rep. Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge, on the far left; Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Broome; Ascension Parish CAO William Daniel; Gov. Edwards; Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks; and Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stasi, on the far right.

Baton Rouge area residents are facing the storm with “fear in their eyes,” but local and parish officials feel a lot better prepared than in 2016.

“We’re going to get more than we want from a rain perspective,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards after meeting Friday afternoon with local officials and legislators from the Capital City region at the Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness.

Up to 20 inches of rain, possibly more, is expected to fall on the region after Tropical Storm Barry, which is expected to come ashore near Morgan City Saturday morning, meanders up the Atchafalaya Basin and brushes by Baton Rouge around lunchtime.

[Update, 10 a.m. Saturday: Barry has been upgraded to a hurricane.]

Area rivers that already are high could get a lot more water.

Back in August 2016, when about 28 inches fell in the same area over a similar time period, 13 people died and tens of thousands of homes were flooded in East Feliciana, East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension parishes along the Comite and Amite Rivers as well as communities along the Tangipahoa and Tickfaw rivers and in Acadiana as well.

“We’re just getting over 2016. We can see the fear in our people’s eyes,” said Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stasi.

But it’s different this time, said Baton Rouge Mayor President Sharon Broome after being briefed on what to expect from Saturday’s weather and what to expect from state agencies charged with disaster recovery.

“In 2016, I don’t think I took it seriously, because I was in a non-flood zone. ‘Surely, the water was going to get high, but my house isn’t going to flood’,” Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Broome recalled thinking. She didn’t have sandbags, took no preparations like moving furniture off the floor and ended up spending more than a year out of her home.

“I am more prepared this time than I was in 2016,” Broome said.

So is Baton Rouge.

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Crews have been cleaning out drains and culverts to keep water from backing up, mapping possible choke points and handing out sandbags – 177,000 by Friday evening, Broome said.

But she’s holding off on declaring a curfew until she assesses what seems necessary after the storm passes. “We will have ample time to make that decision,” Broome said.

Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said he has no plans to evacuate the communities that flooded in 2016.

Some low-lying areas in Livingston Parish likely will take on water and shelters probably will be opened at some point during the next few days.

Officials had more time to prepare and vacuum-trucks have been clearing out culverts, he said. He also has been encouraging residents to pick up toys and items from front yards that inevitably end up floating away and blocking drains.

Ascension Parish residents also are going to stay put, said William Daniels, who oversees public works.

“We feel like we’re much better prepared,” Daniel said.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.