Cold blast continues to sweep across Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Bitter cold settled in around Louisiana overnight and into Tuesday morning, with a few areas looking likely to set record temperatures as school was canceled for thousands and others took precautions to protect themselves and their homes.

Monroe was reportedly the only Louisiana city to set a record Monday for a low temperature recorded on Jan. 6. Its reading of 20 was one degree below that for Jan. 6, 1959. Shreveport and Alexandria could set or match Jan. 7 records as arctic air spends a second day in the state. Shreveport faces what could be the coldest day in 128 years - its predicted low of 14 would match a record set in 1886. In the New Orleans area, temperatures fell below freezing overnight and weren't expected to rise above 32 until late Tuesday.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission ordered electric and gas utilities not to disconnect delinquent customers in areas where high temperatures were at or below freezing. Statewide, plumbers braced for a torrent of calls about frozen pipes once the weather warms and pipes thaw out.

"The pipes, they're not busted. Yet," said Jason Martin, owner and president of All Plumbing Heating & Cooling in Monroe. He said he'd already he fielded a few calls Monday about frozen pipes. "It's hard to know whether the pipes will be ruptured if they're frozen.

The ice will plug the hole," he said. Monroe temperatures were expected to rise Tuesday into the upper 30s and low 40s. People will learn if pipes are broken when they thaw, Martin said. People who didn't take precautions Monday could discover problems Tuesday or Wednesday, agreed Tommy McCauley, field supervisor at Crossroads Plumbing LLC in Alexandria. "Seventeen and a wind chill like 8? That's pretty cold. For Louisiana," he said.

The weather service in Lake Charles posted predicted lows of 21 degrees in Lake Charles and 19 in Lafayette - two degrees above break records set in 1924, and 17 in Alexandria, one degree below the 1970 record for Jan. 7. "

This is the coldest air mass our region has seen in nearly 20 years," according to an alert on the weather service's Shreveport website. The last comparable big chill was Feb. 3-5, 1996, when temperatures were in the teens and single digits for three days, it said. Cold weather extended the holiday break for students in the East Baton Rouge Parish city of Central but not for their teachers. Superintendent Michael Faulk said he didn't want students waiting in the bitter cold for buses.

Faculty and staff will report Tuesday for a teacher workday that was required but had not yet been scheduled, he said. The Franklin and Tensas parish school systems canceled classes Tuesday. In Loranger, its elementary, middle and high schools will be closed to students and staff after a boiler failure late Monday.

All remaining Tangipahoa Parish public schools will be open, officials said. In East Baton Rouge Parish, classes will be delayed two hours to protect bus riders from the cold, Superintendent Bernard Taylor Jr. said. "While the start of classes will be delayed, all of our schools will be fully staffed and open at their normal times ... to accommodate students who walk to school or are taken to school by their parents," he said in a news release.

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