Lee Hebert looks like he has been on duty as Acadia Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness since Saturday morning.
There’s a strong outline of beard stubble, his eyes look very tired and there’s a cot with a sleeping bag in front of his desk. It definitely hasn’t been a camp outing for the Scoutmaster of Rayne Boy Scout Troop 61.
He’s been on duty at the E911 Dispatch Center on the Courthouse Circle in Crowley since Saturday morning.
Hebert still has enough spirit to joke that his assistant Kim Boudreaux, and Mary Richard, secretary of the Parish Communications District, have “ordered” him to take some time off.
Boudreaux and Richard have been spending almost as much time working in advance of Hurricane Gustav as has Hebert, who was able to convince them to take some time off. In addition, many of the E911 dispatchers manned their telephones from Sunday through Wednesday.
As the interview was about to start, Hebert was talking by telephone with his wife, telling her that he expected to be home for a few hours later on Thursday.
The decision to mann the Acadia Parish Office of Homeland Security was prompted by a need to arrange transportation for people with special needs and those who have no transportation.
Hebert and his staff coordinated the arrival and departure of a fleet of buses to areas north of Alexandria in the center of Louisiana.
“We evacuated about 230 people,” says Hebert in one bus convoy.
“They’ re slowly returning,” he adds, noting the first group was back in Acadia Parish in the wee hours of Thursday.
Ambulances were used to evacuate the medically needy. Those patients were examined in Alexandria before being transported further north out of the hurricane’s path. Steady lines of ambulance were seen along Interstate 49 as they ferried patients to and from their safe havens.
Hebert noted that late Saturday and Sunday were devoted to “getting prepared for the storm,” which at that time was described as a Category 3 storm with the potential to become a Category 4 or 5 storm before making landfall along the Louisiana coast.
Hebert kept busy by checking on the status of first responders, and staging work clean-up crew. Parish and city workers were also busy filling sandbags.
Late Saturday, Hebert issued his first mandatory evacuation order for residents living below Highway 92 and all residents in mobile homes.
At the same time, Hebert issued an advisory and voluntary evacuation for remaining parish residents south and north of Interstate 10.
Hebert noted that Police Jury President A.J. Credeur spent numerous hours at the Emergency Operations Center, staying Tuesday night.
“He was helpful in making decisions and seeing that things got done,” said Hebert.
Other members of the Acadia Parish Police Jury offered their assistance by coming to the center or calling in.
When the storm came on shore and swept through Acadia Parish, Hebert said it hit the hardest in the northeastern area, affecting the Mire, Branch and Richard areas. Though electrical power has been restored to some of those areas, Hebert notes he has been told “it could be weeks for some people.”
Hebert admits he was delighted to learn that both Crowley and Rayne maintained their water service and that power outages were being quickly handled elsewhere in the parish.
Though he arranged to have some military MRE meals distributed Wednesday night from the Rayne Fire Station, he plans to see that the ready to eat meals are going to people in the parish who are still struggling with the facts of power outages.
Thursday morning, Congressman Charles Boustany, M.D., stopped at the Emergency Operations Center to see firsthand what was being done in the storm’s aftermath and offer his encouragement.
After Boustany’s visit, Hebert noted clean-up work was still in progress.
As he turned to consult with Assistant Director Kim Boudreaux, Hebert remarked, “I hope by Friday night to go home and get a decent night’s sleep.”