Dig Baton Rouge

Red Stick on Ice

Pee Wee Sullivan woke up in the early morning hours Tuesday, hopped on his bike and rode five miles in freezing weather to make his dishwashing shift at Leroy’s Kitchen on Nicholson Drive. By the time he headed back home across town, the temperature had dropped and heavy sleet was falling.

Sullivan rode slowly down the Dalyrmple bike path along LSU Lake, clutching a brown paper bag containing a hot meal from Leroy’s. The sleet bounced off his hooded jacket, which covered most of his face, as the wind whipped harshly off of the lake and across the road.

“Right now it’s cold,” he said. “If it gets any worse, it’ll be bad.”

Despite the frigid temperatures and hazardous road conditions, Sullivan treated it like any other work day.

“I had to work today,” he said simply.

Much of Baton Rouge, however, took the day off. East Baton Rouge Parish Schools, LSU, BRCC and Southern all closed shop. City-parish offices were closed, as were state buildings in nearly all parishes.

State and local officials took a more aggressive de-icing approach after last week’s ice storm effectively shut down nearly every elevated roadway for two days. Still, dozens of roadways and bridges were closed due to icy conditions, including the Central Thruway and the I-10 onramp at Dalrymple.

“We are trying to make sure we keep as many routes open as possible; this does not mean get out on the roads and travel,” Department of Public Works director David Guillory said Tuesday morning. “We think it’s best that if you have everything you need at home to stay there.”

The bars of Tigerland, however, were open.

Around noon on Tuesday, LSU sophomore Hunter Dawson was leaving Fred’s in Tigerland with three fraternity brothers, taking full advantage of the day off from school.

“We ain’t got school, man,” he said. “I’m not gonna sit on my ass.”

Inside, the bar was mostly empty. Dawson said he planned to return later in the day when more people showed up – even if the weather took a turn for the worse as predicted.

“Nothing can stop me,” he said.

**Preparations for the storm **

By 6 p.m. Monday night, with parking lots filled near capacity, parking spaces and shopping carts were hard to come by at grocery stores in South Baton Rouge.

Some shoppers helped other’s unload their items so they could use their carts next. Once inside the stores, shoppers were greeted by almost bare shelves where many staples such as bread, meat, milk, and bottled water normally were. Several stores saw cleared out shelves, including Albertsons on Bluebonnet and Burbank, Winn Dixie on Burbank at Lee, Neighborhood Mart on Highland at Lee, and Matherne’s on Highland near Kenilworth.

Janice Hardin, a customer at Neighborhood Mart said she was out shopping last night to get items her family may need since they could lose electricity for a few days.

“I’m not surprised at how crowded the stores are, people are preparing for this storm like we would for a hurricane,” Hardin said. “I think more people are stocking up since officials are saying to stay off the roads if possible and the electric companies are stating people could be without power for three to five days. People start to panic.”

Hardin also commented on shopping in preparation for last week’s storm saying it wasn’t nearly as bad last week as it was this week.

As for stores opening on Tuesday, Trenton Fisher, loss prevention manager at Albertsons on Bluebonnet and Burbank said, “We are here to serve. People need bread, people need milk, people need food. We’re not going to close, we can handle this. They may shut down the interstate and close the overpasses but there are plenty of roads that will be open and people will be able to get here and we will be here to serve them.”

Fisher added, “Last Friday when that storm hit, we were jam packed all day. We’ve been even busier today,” Fisher said.

Michael Lesaicherre, a manager at Matherne’s on Highland near Kenilworth said the store “has been an absolute mad house.”

“Since about 11 a.m. we’ve been steady, having opened up all our lanes, running the whole time,” he said. “It’s almost like it’s a hurricane, people are treating it like a hurricane.”

When asked how it compared to the last week’s storm, Lesaicherre said, “It was not as bad as last Friday, this is a lot worse.”

Finding Shelter

Meanwhile, the city’s less fortunate also made preparations for the cold weather.

Tucked away under an Interstate 10 overpass, a homeless man who identified himself as Thomas but would not give his last name said he’s stayed warm with a fire made from gallons of grease and scattered tree branches. To keep his mind off of the cold, Thomas plays classical guitar and watches PBS on his portable, battery powered television.

Asked what he needed, Thomas simply responded, “Nothing at all. I’m fine where I’m at.”

Area shelter programs have seen a large number of homeless coming in looking for refuge due to the weather. It isn’t unusual for the Society of St. Vincent De Paul’s shelter to see more people anytime the temperature drops below 40 degrees, but this year has found a record number seeking a bed, said Michael Acaldo, the Baton Rouge society’s chief executive officer.

“The one thing that’s stressful this year is the number of cold days we’ve had,” Acaldo said. “And I think around Thanksgiving time, we had some cold weather. It’s just been more consistent.”

Acaldo said the men’s shelter at the society’s main campus – located at 1623 Convention St. – has 31 bunk beds available and typically the bottom bunks are filled. But on harsh wintery nights, those beds are quickly filled to capacity.

The shelter – which is free – has been well prepared, Acaldo said, but they are in need of new pillows and towels and are accepting donations from the community.

“Usually, we allow people to stay within the shelter but they have to work toward self-sufficiency. But if it drops below 40 degrees or a hurricane, we do away with those rules,” Acaldo said.

_Jeremy Harper, Jake Clapp, Tammatha R. Conerly and Trip Dugas contributed to this report.

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