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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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State offices stay closed in at least 48 parishes

State offices stay closed in at least 48 parishes

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — State police and power companies hoped Wednesday that Day 2 of Louisiana's third arctic front would continue like Day 1, with relatively few wrecks and power failures.

With schools, state offices and businesses closed across Louisiana, state police said people generally seemed to follow advice to stay off the road.

Roads were worse but traffic much sparser and wrecks far fewer Tuesday than last Friday, when two people died on icy roads, Sgt. Nicholas Manale said.

"We are glad to see the public heeding the warning of local officials and law enforcement — not placing themselves and first responders in potentially hazardous situations," he said.

Power companies were thankful that snow and sleet fell across most of the state, rather than freezing rain.

"Sleet comes down as ice, so when it hits it bounces off," said Cleco spokeswoman Robbyn Cooper. Freezing rain, on the other hand, weights transmission lines and branches with ice. "That's what typically will bring down the limbs and cause problems with power lines," she said.

"We're hoping that we have that same type of weather as the storm moves into the southern parishes as well," she said.

Cleco's largest outage was 414 customers in Rapides Parish.

Tuesday's largest outage was very brief. High winds blew two transmission lines into each other, knocking out power to about 8,000 customers in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish, said Entergy Corp. spokeswoman Charlotte Cavell. She said a crew fixed it within five minutes.

Other than that, four power companies checked by The Associated Press reported outages totaling about 1,200 customers.

The central Louisiana town of Jena got 4 inches of snow and sleet. Flights in and out of New Orleans and other cities were canceled. French Quarter streets were oddly quiet, with brass bands and other street performers staying home.

Before an icy rain started in New Orleans, only a couple of artists were hawking work along Jackson Square's black iron fence across from Cafe du Monde, where big fabric walls protected the patio as about 100 tourists sipped cafe au lait and ate fried pastries called beignets.

Jessica Blair said she and her husband, Park, left Cleveland to celebrate his 50th birthday. "And to get away from the cold weather," she said, laughing.

Central Louisiana had the heaviest snow and sleet, with 2 to 3 inches reported in Florien and Colfax and 2 inches in Dry Prong, according to the National Weather Service.

Ice closed the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, one of the world's longest bridges, and about 20 highways around the state. Ice on streets and walks leading to ferry landings and on the boats themselves shut down service from Chalmette to Algiers and Algiers to New Orleans' east bank.

The Louisiana National Guard mobilized 450 soldiers, sending 375 of them to help grade and get ice off of roads in the Hammond and Lafayette areas.

Though much of central Louisiana was warming up Tuesday afternoon, the weather service warned that it might not melt all the snow, leaving ice after another freezing night.

The pedicabs and mule-drawn buggies that usually work the French Quarter were absent; only a few taxis cruised the streets.

Airlines made a few morning flights in and out of New Orleans. But Iftikhar Ahmad, director of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, said airlines canceled all remaining flights Tuesday and were unlikely to fly Wednesday. The airport hopes to resume flights Thursday, he said.

The nasty weather shut down state offices in 56 of Louisiana's 64 parishes Tuesday, and at least 48 of them were staying closed Wednesday, said Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols. Only nine school systems were open Tuesday — eight in northwest Louisiana and one in the northeast. Some of the universities and colleges closed Tuesday were reopening Wednesday.

In New Orleans, the Audubon Zoo and affiliated insectarium and aquarium were closed; bus, airboat and riverboat tours were canceled. Businesses closed early if they opened at all.

The arctic blast meant a rare night indoors for 43-year-old Jason Morrow, who has been homeless for about eight years.

New Orleans shelters find a place for everyone on freeze nights. Other nights, says Morrow, he cannot stay at a shelter because he does not have a tuberculosis test on file and has no money to pay for one.

Morrow said he grew up in Bluefield, W.Va. "It has very good scenery but very few jobs unless you want to get black lung working in a coal mine," he said.

He lived on the streets in Virginia and Oregon before coming to New Orleans.

"I came from Oregon to Louisiana because I thought it was going to be a little warmer," he said with a laugh. Most of the time, he said, it is.


Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report.

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