There were two major hurricanes that passed through Louisiana in 2005. Most people remember the first, Katrina, because it caused major damage in New Orleans and displaced a portion of its population. People do not always remember that later it was Hurricane Rita that caused heavy damage in western Louisiana.
Rita caused wide spread damage with high water surge, flooding and winds with related tornados.
In Cameron Parish, La., near the gulf coast, Rita’s storm surge flooded the entire community with disastrous results. Building structures shifted, some were smashed and others were washed away. Pipes and connections were fractured and ripped out of place.
Making a plan
When the news and weather reports started to track the hurricane, James Cox, the Cameron Parrish Waterworks water general manager, knew he had a major problem. The day after the storm passed through and displaced Cox, he drove back to survey the damage and establish a plan to restore the water system and provide service to his customers.
At the time, there were about 1,800 connections, most flooded under several feet of sea water.
The city’s water tower lost pressure due to major leaks draining the water from the tower. Therefore, the objective was to close all the shut-off valves in the breached tributary areas and get the well pump station to pump water to the Cameron tower. That would establish the system’s water pressure again. Then, from the shutoff valves to the customers' meters, they had to flush out the lines back to the meters so they could establish service for their customers.
“The major reason we had installed the new 3G system to the water system was because it is self contained unit and has no wires. We asked around and found that if you had wires and a rodent problem, you would have cut wires. We have crawfish, moles and snakes and we liked the idea that the 3G  is a self-contained unit with no wires and easy to put in the ground. We figured that if we were going to advance our system that much, we should get the best we could afford and Master Meter was our best choice and lower than their competition.”
Rebuilding the community
After the hurricanes, all of the meters were under water and later several feet of debris. According to Cox, it was like finding meters in the middle of a lake or a dump. Even when the water cleared, the debris and the hurricane modified terrain made it almost impossible to find the meters. One bright point during this time of hard work and long hours was that the AMR meters could be located in a timely manner because they were signaling.
With the help of a few people outside of his staff, Cox was able to put more than a 1,000 of his customers back in service within the first four of five days.
“It wasn’t potable water, but they could flush the toilet, take a shower and that made a huge difference,” Cox said. “Today our community still continues to recover and grow because of the storm, but our water system plans are moving forward to serve our growing community.”
Labor costs for meter reading have gone down about two-thirds and the area’s growth expansion has grown to 2600 customers. Cameron is now looking at a plan to take the complete system to a Master Meter drive-by system. They feel that if it worked during and after a hurricane while underwater, then it will work just fine every day.