Saturday, May 18, 2019

CHF Event Examines 300 Block of New Hampshire

The Covington Heritage Foundation hosted a fun and informative event in the 300 block of North New Hampshire St. on a recent Sunday afternoon. Around 80 people attended, listening to speakers tell about the history of the Star Theater, the old Courthouse (now the Emergency Operations Center), the Southern Hotel and the St. Tammany Farmer Newspaper.

Michael LaFrance told the story of the early days of the Star Theater, its impact upon the community, and its participation in fund-raising efforts for War Bond sales. 



His talk included a visit inside the 77 year old building.

 
 Brenda Willis and Ron Barthet told participants about the history of the St. Tammany Farmer newspaper, as well as the Poole Brothers Livery Stables (and Undertaking & Embalming Service) building that preceded the paper in that location. 



Ms. Willis told about the local people who would come to visit the newspaper office, the politicians, the community leaders, and others, and she recounted what happened after the 1997 Covington tornado. "We looked out the door and all the windows in the courthouse across the street had been blown out," she said.  Brenda then took the group inside for a brief tour of the newspaper office.


The Southern Hotel


At the Southern Hotel, General Manager Miro Lago told the group about the history of the 112 year old building, including the time Governor Earl Long designated it as the "state capitol" following his lunacy hearing at the Covington Middle School gymnasium.
 


Over at the old Old Boston St. Courthouse, now being used as the parish's Emergency Operations Center, Director of Homeland Security Dexter Accardo, below, explained how the building was being used in times of hurricanes and other emergency situations. 

Key personnel from a wide variety of public and private agencies are represented in the communications center during an emergency.


He told how St. Tammany Parish and particularly his department was commended for its plan for handling the threat of Hurricane Katrina. Having a plan and modern communications helped the parish recover from the damage as quickly as possible, he said.


Accardo has been director for 15 years and praised the use of the old courthouse for emergency purposes because of its solid construction. Part of the operation has moved over to an administrative facility on Tyler Street near Champagne Beverage, however.

"We do a lot of training in emergency management," he said.

The tour stayed on the ground floor, but Accardo did mention that on the mezzanine level there were bunk rooms for rest breaks for the various personnel who work around the clock during an emergency situation.

An important part of the operations during an emergency situation is to receive calls for help as they come in, record them, distribute them to the agencies that can do something about them, but most importantly, keep track of them to make sure they were handled. 

"During a hurricane we can't send electrical crews out in the middle of the storm to fix something, but we have to have a system that will keep track of all these things and address them as soon as conditions allow," he explained. 

The system allows for  accurate computerized record-keeping as well, which helps in after assessments and reports. 

What is the number one type of call that comes into the communications center during a hurricane? "It's phone calls from people outside the area checking on the welfare of people within the affected area, their families," he said. "We had thousands of calls asking to check on their friends and relatives."

 What is the number one killer in a hurricane? Water, flooding, people being swept away and drowning. The number two killer in a hurricane is a heart attack. 

"People are under stress, first responders can't get to them in time, because of the weather conditions, and heart attacks wind up being the number two killer," he went on to say.

He commended the faith-based communities for providing the assistance needed throughout their neighborhoods were there to help in any way they could.
St. Tammany did well in recovering from Katrina because of its "operational plan" that was in place before the storm, and that plan had to be doubled and tripled to meet the challenges that were presented by that particular hurricane, he said.