Ice causes 15-vehicle wreck on Interstate 55

Published 8:49 pm Thursday, February 3, 2011

Icy conditions triggered a 15-vehicle wreck in southeastern Louisiana early Thursday as the state braced for freezing winter weather lasting into the start of the weekend.

State police reported a few minor injuries in the chain-reaction crash on the northbound side of Interstate 55 between Manchac and Pontchatoula. Traffic was rerouted to a nearby road for about two hours until crews cleared out the accident, which occurred just after 6 a.m.

Ice also forced the closure of several Interstate 10 overpasses between Baton Rouge and Gonzales for a few hours early Thursday. The Sunshine Bridge over the Mississippi River in Ascension Parish was closed for a time, but reopened in time for rush hour.

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In anticipation of a bout of ice, sleet and possible snow into early Saturday, Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a statewide emergency, leading the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to activate a crisis team to watch for dangerous conditions. Jindal said state police, the state highway department and the Louisiana National Guard were prepared with people and equipment.

State offices closed Thursday in 18 parishes in Acadiana, the Baton Rouge area and on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. At least 11 local school districts shut down Thursday, while Southeastern Louisiana University canceled classes.

In Oil City, 20 miles north of Shreveport, a broken water main blamed on frost cut water to residents of the city of 1,300 and surrounding communities. The pipe was fixed by Wednesday afternoon, but the area probably will remain under a boil advisory at least until Friday and possibly through the weekend, Mayor Chip Dickey said.

A church that owns a vacant shopping mall in Shreveport opened a gutted restaurant as a shelter. Deacon Ray Tabor said Summer Grove Baptist Church sheltered 11 people Tuesday night. Among those taking shelter were a mother and children who had fled the cold in southern Louisiana.

“They didn’t have coats, didn’t have clothes, didn’t have shoes. Those children were barefoot,” Tabor said. Church members got clothing, shoes and coats for the family and arranged for medical treatment.

Cleco Corp. warned its customers that the ice could accumulate on utility lines and tree limbs, resulting in power outages. The company said its line crews and contractors were on alert.

“Lines can snap, and tree limbs can break and fall into our system under the weight of ice,” said Anthony Bunting, Cleco’s vice president of customer service and energy delivery.