Top 10 Stories of 2021: Winter storm leaves blanket of ice across LC

Published 10:16 am Saturday, January 1, 2022

The frigid winter weather that swept across the area mid-February caused widespread power outages and depleted the city’s water reserves while leaving a blanket of ice across Lake Charles.

At the direction of the governor, the Louisiana National Guard sent more than 1,200 Guardsmen to Southwest Louisiana, who utlimately distributed more than 1.2 million bottles of water to residents as well as 414,400 gallons of bulk water to area hospitals and other medical centers.

The ice storm was declared a federal disaster by President Joe Biden, marking the fourth federal disaster in Lake Charles in 12 months.

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“What we are facing right now is Mother Nature,” Mayor Nic Hunter told the American Press at the time. “She has been brutal to us and over these last 12 months, she has really thrown everything that she could at us. We are at a better spot today than we were yesterday. We continue to see improvement daily. We continue to see improvement hourly.”

The winter storm, along with Hurricanes Laura and Delta, were “once-in-a-generation events” in a 12-month span, Hunter said.

“When you pile these on top of each other, I certainly would hope we have a long road ahead of us before we encounter any of these instances again,” he said.

Little did he know that in three months, Mother Nature would drop heavy rainfall to the city resulting in severe flooding.

Kevin Heise, city utilities manager, said city employees identified and shut off roughly 2,200 water breaks at private homes and businesses following the winter storm. He said residents and plumbers likely shut off just as many leaks, with an estimated 4,000-5,000 leaks citywide.

“Every plumber I’ve talked to is hundreds and hundreds of (service) calls behind,” Heise said at the time.

Hospitals were allowed to run tanker trucks around the clock from the Lake Charles water systems, causing an extreme but necessary demand on the system. The city of Westlake offered some of their own tanker trucks to help with this demand.

Entergy Senior Communications Specialist Brandon Scardigli said in a news release that its reliability coordinator, Midcontinent Independent System Operator, directed the power outages for customers in the southwest area of its service territory. Because the cold temperatures drove up demand for electricity, the outages were done “as a last resort” to keep “a more extensive, prolonged power outage that could severely affect the reliability of the power grid.”

Despite the challenges with water and electricity, there were no major public safety issues, Hunter said.