Storm tears through Union Parish


Many residents still without power, water, supplies

  • High winds from Hurricane Laura tore through Farmerville Thursday, leaving damage like the destruction of this canopy on the old gas station across from Popeyes in its wake. Gazette photo by Byron Avery
    High winds from Hurricane Laura tore through Farmerville Thursday, leaving damage like the destruction of this canopy on the old gas station across from Popeyes in its wake. Gazette photo by Byron Avery

Hurricane Laura hit Union Parish Thursday. Yes, you read that right. Laura hit north Louisiana as a category 1 hurricane. That’s not what this area is used to.

Wind, rain, even severe in some cases, is the norm when a hurricane hits south La. But not this time. And the damage can be seen all across the parish. More than 90 percent of all Claiborne Electric customers in Union Parish were without power at one point. As of noon Tuesday, five days after the storm hit, that was down to roughly 30 percent of it’s just over 10,000 UP customers.

In the aftermath, parish leaders are responding as they can to meet the needs of those still struggling without basic necessities.

Greg Gossler, Union Parish Director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, is the man responsible for coordinating all the efforts of the parish. “Monitoring, coordinating, just trying to get everything pulled together,” Gossler said of his current activities. Gossler has been at home battling COVID-19. He received his negative test result Tuesday. “It’s an uphill battle because I have so many people involved.”

Prior to Thursday, Gossler said he encouraged everyone “to get a game plan, get water, get food, get ice. But that didn’t happen. We’ve just never had this type of incident, come this far north, with this intensity. It’s kind of hard to prepare for when you don’t know really what’s going to happen.”

UP Sheriff Dusty Gates said his office has been busy working to help clear roads and deliver necessities to people and places around the parish. “We spent numerous hours, trying to clear debris, getting main roads open, parish roads open. I had regular shifts, called in extra people, called in our reserve units. I had people using their own vehicles, their own equipment, trying to open up all these roads. We were checking on people, delivering generators to several hospice patients who were running low on oxygen. Taking generators to elderly people. Answering hundreds of phone calls. We were stretched thin, just like every other parish.”

Gates knows everyone was in a tough situation, but is proud of his department’s response. “We were able to get these roads open fairly quickly. The only issue we really ran into was trees that had taken down power lines that we couldn’t touch because of the lines. At some point we had to call people in because it was too dangerous to be out there. But as soon as we caught a break we were right back out there.”

Around the parish power slowly came back on over the weekend. And the local response came with it.

Marion Mayor Danny Smith and his crew have been passing out supplies for two days, and planned to continue Wednesday. “I received a call from State Representative Chris Turner asking if we could use some water and MREs. I asked him where I needed to be and we picked them up in Ruston that day. We got more from Homeland Security in Farmerville and we are working to distribute those.”

Police Jury President Johnny Buckley, as Parish President, declared a state of emergency Thursday. The Jury had all crews and equipment ready to go as soon as was possible. “The first thing we wanted to do was clear dead end roads, where people were trapped with no other outlet. We didn’t want anyone trapped in a road like that. And right now, Buckley said Monday evening, we’re going road by road and clearing those. I’ve been in contact with (State Rep.) Chris Turner and he told me to let him know if there was anything I needed.”

The Town of Farmerville has opened it’s Recreation Center to area residents, and is providing water, coffee and snacks (and AC) from noon – 8 p.m. to those still without power, and will continue to do so until power is restored.

Farmerville Police Chief Bim Coulberston said his department is helping any way they can. “We are providing security at the Rec. center and during the storm we had extra people out on patrol with the power out trying to look out for our businesses.”

Gossler is still working closely with GOHSEP to get supplies for Union Parish. “It’s up to the mayors and parish leaders to let me know what they need and we will work to get that,” he said. More ice, MREs and water is on the way, along with Louisiana National Guardsmen to help with the work. Claiborne Electric and several outof-state crews are still working throughout the parish to clear downed trees and repair downed service lines.

The town of Farmerville was without water about three hours after the storm hit, but that was restored fairly quickly. Local eateries have been staying open doing what they can to provide a place where citizens can eat if their home is without power and they have no way to prepare food.

Even with everyone working to do their best, there are inevitably things that didn’t go right. Those in leadership agree there are things that need to be discussed now and worked out so the next emergency Union Parish can be better prepared.