With five Atlantic and Gulf storms named already this year, the 2011 hurricane season is off to a strong start.
The parish’s 330 miles of shoreline, low elevations, major waterways and limited levee protection in some areas put St. Charles at a high risk for hurricane damage should a storm make landfall.
If an evacuation becomes necessary, parishioners and officials alike urge St. Charles residents to avoid interstates and utilize smaller local highways to get out of town.
The most popular highway routes out of the parish are Highway 90, Highway 3127 and Highway 61, or Airline Highway.
“I encourage our residents to utilize 3127 – it really keeps you out of a great deal of congestion on the interstates,” said Tab Troxler, former Director of Emergency Preparedness for the parish. “It’s a good route; it’s really a main route but it’s not traveled as often.”
Troxler, who was in charge of parish evacuations during hurricanes Katrina and Gustav, said that he thinks it is also important to leave within two hours of the parish giving an evacuation notice.
“Leave at the earliest possible time because I’ve seen that when parish officials call for evacuation it’s very typical for there to be a six- to 12-hour delay (of traffic),” he said. “If you leave within two hours of the order being called…the chances are you’ll beat out traffic.”
Luling resident Jenny Zoglio said she is always the first to leave when she hears of a storm and she never has to deal with traffic.
“We pack up and I don’t play around – I leave,” Zoglio said. “We can’t control the weather; we can’t predict what direction the weather will go. I get really nervous not knowing what’s going to happen – it could do anything, so why mess around?
“Get out, be safe and watch it, then come back home when it passes.”
Zoglio said she often leaves when the storm is still 72 hours away, much earlier than her neighbors and friends.
“When you leave early, you don’t hit that much traffic,” she said.
Highway 90 towards Lafayette is her preferred route and she always avoids interstates.
“I try to avoid I-10 because it’s heavily traveled anyway – on a typical day it’s clogged,” Zoglio said.
Leslie Cooper, another parishioner, said that she is counted among those who leave at the last minute in an attempt to avoid traffic.
“We usually leave within 24 hours of the storm hitting, I don’t leave immediately,” Cooper said. “I find the traffic is better – it has weakened up a bit.”
However, Cooper said she also avoids the interstate and advised those who must travel on I-10 to leave much earlier. Cooper’s usual route is state Highway 3127.
“I’ve never had an issue with my route – it has always worked out for me,” she said.
Current Director of Emergency Preparedness Scott Whelchel said that he would never suggest waiting until the last minute during an evacuation.
“We don’t take ordering an evacuation or other protective action lightly – it’s a very serious matter,” Whelchel said. “I have a family too and they’re going to leave. If I’m going to force my own family to evacuate, it’s serious.”
Whelchel said that the worst-case scenario would be for a storm to hit just west of the parish.
“If a storm hits just west of us, we’ll get the highest tornado threat and storm surge,” he said. “We don’t like storms to get close to us at all, but we especially don’t like them to go just west of us.”
Whelchel also said that recent improvements to parish levees, such as the improved East Bank hurricane protection levee, are key in protection from a hurricane, but they are no guarantee that damage will not occur.
“Any improvements to the levee system are going to help,” Whelchel said. “(The improved levee) is critical to protecting the East Bank, but given certain scenarios…some models show the overtopping of even a 100-year levee like that one.
“If breached, it becomes more of a liability because it’s holding in water.”
To help Louisianians get ready for hurricanes, the state has launched a game plan application for cell phones and computers. The “app” helps families to make concrete plans and packing lists than can be used whenever an evacuation may be called. Access the program at www.getagameplan.org.
Whelchel said that Louisiana is the only state to provide such a program to its residents.