“We never lost water,” said Sulphur Mayor Mike Danahay. “We were down to a trickle at one point because we were running the whole city on one plant.”
The mayor and his department heads rode out Hurricane Laura, the strongest storm to hit Louisiana since before the Civil War, at Sulphur City Hall on Huntington Street. And though he doesn’t have a presence on social media due to his aversion to filming video updates, Danahay and his staff have been at City Hall every day since the storm — now nearly a full two weeks — doing the people’s work. They often leave after dark and must make repairs to their own homes using flashlights.
“I am amazed and proud of our employees who have worked tirelessly to bring back services to this city as quickly as possible,” Danahay said. “All of the employees have worked to exhaustion to make sure it happens.”
The wastewater plant on Bayou d’Inde Road did not fare so well. “It sustained some significant damage,” said Danahay. “It’s operating, it’s functional and we’re treating (the wastewater) like we normally would.”
The wastewater department lost their office building and the onsite lab lost its roof. Another site is being set up. Danahay said this will be a long-term repair process. The city’s large lift stations are on massive generators, but the smaller ones are not. This has necessitated the hiring of pump services to collect from those smaller stations and haul the waste to the plant for processing. Danahay said this is costly. He said generators for each of the small lift stations will soon be in place.
Though all local municipalities work in coordination with parish and state emergency preparedness offices to get back up and running after a disaster, officials know they are on their own for the first 72 hours after the event.
Sulphur was up to the challenge.
City employees were able to get a generator to the Verdine Street wellhead Thursday evening, the night of the storm, and they activated it at 3 a.m. Friday morning. “Once that that well came up, our pressure starting coming up and we haven’t had an issue since,” said Danahay. The city is still under a boil advisory, as required by the LDH when a system is running on temporary power. “But we are operating our water plant as usual,” he said.
The good news is that hundreds of residents in Sulphur now have power as Entergy is slowly restoring Sulphur after massive destruction to its infrastructure.
Danahay said finding points of distribution presented a problem for the city early on. Offers of help were pouring in but finding the space for 18 wheelers to unload and storage to house donations was difficult. A lot of space was being used for debris dumping and, with the entire electrical grid damaged, space was also needed for utility trucks. But locations were soon found. Care Help has been a central spot. Another good drop off site is Celebration Worship on Highway 1256.
The City will be moving into the recovery phase as soon as electricity is restored, again, which is gaining steam. FEMA will be setting up a site somewhere in Sulphur, possibly at the library. “Power will be the game changer,” said Danahay.
Contracted debris removal will be ongoing for the next several months. Danahay asked that citizens not place debris in ditches. Contractors have equipment capable of reaching the debris across drainage ditches.
Residents are being asked to separate the debris they place at the road into the following groupings: vegetation, construction, appliances/white goods, and electronics and hazardous household waste. Contractors will be making multiple passes.
Danahay said the Sulphur Fire and Police departments are “doing a wonderful job.”
The fire department is conducting carbon monoxide detection visits to homes running generators to ensure they are situated a safe distance from homes and are not venting into windows or open doors. A great many of the 26 Louisiana residents to lose their life after Laura have succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.
The SFD was able to prevent potential tragedy when they noticed a generator venting into a neighbor’s attic. To request carbon monoxide monitoring at a specific location, call the SFD at 337-527-4545.
The Sulphur Police Department is doing wellness checks on the elderly and the infirmed. “That’s been a concern to me,” said Danahay. “We have a lot of disabled and seniors.” He said there is no way to know exactly who needs help with assistance from the public or family members.
Anyone who knows of a vulnerable family member or friend living in a residence without power can request a wellness visit by calling the SPD at 337-527-4550. The mayor said there has been some looting, but the city is very fortunate to have officers from across the region assisting the SPD and CPSO in patrolling.
The next challenge for the City will be providing temporary housing. Danahay said his administration is drafting a temporary housing ordinance to send to the City Council for approval. The city is currently approving construction permits and waiving all associated fees.
Any contractors seeking these permits must meet certain criteria to work within city limits. But, unlike in the aftermath of the recent hail storm, when there was just one type of business seeking permits, requests for permits are coming from every corner of the construction sector.
“Our inspectors are on the ground making sure that the contractors out there have, at least registered with us, and are doing work properly, and making sure our citizens aren’t taken by unscrupulous contractors,” said Danahay.
Regarding Sulphur’s ability to bounce back, as it did following Hurricane Rita in 2005, Danahay doesn’t hesitate to praise local residents. “They’ve just responded in an incredible way. We are a resilient people in Sulphur, with the tendency to put our own problems aside to work with each other to rebuild.
“It’s a difficult time, but a hopeful time to see the little miracles that take place every day. Day by day it gets a little better,” continued Danahay. “We will be dealing with this for years to come, but, it’s going to be okay.”