With no Gulf Coast hurricane since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Alabama and Mississippi officials have worried that residents and tourists could become complacent about the seriousness of orders to flee the next disaster that strikes Gulf shores.
Hurricane season begins June 1 and runs through November. Officials have used the time since Hurricane Katrina to improve storm response tactics, but they are concerned that evacuation orders might not be heeded in time to escape harm. Recent high gasoline prices added a new planning problem for officials who gathered at a May 21 storm preparedness conference.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said the high gas prices will be a ‘critical component” for some people making decisions of whether to leave an area in the path of a hurricane. During a hurricane threat, some residents also horde gasoline to beat prices and stash it for use in generators during power failures.
Riley added that tourists on Gulf beaches also must not wait until the last hour to leave just to keep a hotel room. Riley said hurricane forecasts have become so sophisticated that people watching them believe they can continue vacations until a storm nears landfall before fleeing.
Riley said the tourists and coast residents must be persuaded to leave a day or two before an actual evacuation order is issued. Officials are prepared to reverse lanes on Interstate 65, leading all traffic north to Montgomery.
‘We have more than adequate evacuation routes, as long as people act responsibly, as long as they take these warnings seriously,” said Riley.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Womack said he doesn’t think anyone who lived through Hurricane Katrina will delay leaving, even if gasoline prices continue to soar and they face bumper-to-bumper traffic in a mass exodus.
‘Are you going to risk your life for a tank of gas?” he asked.
Both states have fleets of buses prepared to assist with evacuations.
Womack said Mississippi has an evacuation network that’s in ‘very good shape.” He said three new four-lane highways will lead away from the coast within the next year or so.
Officials at the three-day conference spent several hours going through a simulated Category 3 (130 mph) hurricane scenario. After the drill, Riley declared his state ‘more prepared than ever” to handle a hurricane ‘based on years of experience.”
He said the state has refined the process so that it could respond to a hurricane within hours, not days, in coordination with the Florida Panhandle and Mississippi.
FEMA’s Southeast disaster operations director, Ginger Edwards of Atlanta, said her agency, under a new initiative, is prepared to send a 15-member ‘instant management” team to an area in the hurricane’s path. Womack said that state-federal partnership would help coordinate a storm response.
Brock Long, a FEMA veteran and Alabama’s new EMA director, said his state has a ‘grassroots system” built on ‘sound plans that work.” Those plans include using junior colleges as shelters where storm victims will have access to generators, showers, cots, bedding, food and health care.
Was this article valuable?
Here are more articles you may enjoy.