State Senator for District 31 Louie Bernard said he and his family members located in Natchitoches Parish are coping without electricity in the wake of Hurricane Laura, but they’re not hurting as much as a lot of folks.
“There’s such massive damage to power lines that it’s to be expected,” he said during an interview with the Natchitoches Parish Journal on Sept. 2.
Bernard has taken a position of support when it comes to his role amidst recovery efforts. He likened it to having 10 quarterbacks on the field, which is a recipe for disaster. Bernard is working with Mary Jones, Assistant Director for the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness; Natchitoches Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr., and Parish President John Richmond to help meet the needs of residents within his district. As he receives calls, he’s filtering information to the right parties. He’s also handling Medicaid, Veterans Affairs and water system issues as they arise.
Bernard had a meeting with SWEPCO President COO Malcolm Smoak on Sept. 2 to receive an update on the restoration efforts in the Natchitoches area. To put the overall situation into layman’s terms, imagine drawing a rectangle around Natchitoches, Many and Winn Parishes. There’s substations located in the south of Natchitoches Parish, near Interstate 49 and in Winnfield. The one in Winnfield is the issue right now, but it should be repaired by Sept. 3. Fixing this substation will free up linemen to start connecting wires, which will cause a ripple effect.
Add to all this, the fact that some stations are fed by Entergy and some by CLECO. Bernard said there’s a lot of cooperation between the electric services at play. While he’s praying the estimated restoration time happens, Bernard said it very well may take 2-3 more days.
“Hurricane Laura is the biggest storm to ever hit our area and it shows,” he said.
Homes are on different feeds which explains why one section may see their lights come back on while other nearby homes may remain without power.
One positive piece of news is that Natchitoches Parish has been added to the list of parishes that are available for individual disaster assistance. Five out of the six parishes that make up Bernard’s district have been approved for disaster assistance. Anyone with claims, expenses, and damages can fill out a form, which will be submitted directly to Homeland Security in Baton Rouge.
Bernard also added that he’s been impressed by the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts (LSMSA) and Northwestern State University, who opened 200 dorm rooms to house linemen who have traveled from outside the state to help with restoration efforts.
“This is a huge thing for our community,” he said. “It’s great to see everyone working in concert.”
Overall, Bernard asks everyone to be patient. There’s over 3,000 linemen working in Natchitoches and surrounding areas.
“This just goes to show you how much damage there is,” said Bernard.
While not directly related to recovery efforts, Bernard said he is also working on encouraging state officials to think outside the box and find a way to allow family members to visit their loved ones who are quarantined inside nursing homes. He’s not trying to minimize the risk posed to the vulnerable elderly population, but many haven’t seen their relatives since March 9 due to Covid restrictions. It’s a serious matter and Bernard feels there should be ways to accommodate visitations, even if it means outdoors, 10-feet apart with masks on.