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Shelter opens here; officials keep eye on storm

A relief shelter was opened Wednesday night to accommodate morethan 30 Louisiana evacuees, and Lincoln County civil defenseofficials were keeping a close watch on the weather as HurricaneLili moved ashore Thursday.

Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey said a command post wasopened around 2 a.m. in the Wal-Mart Supercenter parking lot and anAmerican Red Cross relief shelter at First Baptist Church opened at3:30 a.m. Thursday. Thirty-three people were at the shelter thismorning, said church volunteer Joe Davis.

“They’re all doing fine,” Davis said. “They’re starting to getup and see what the storm has done.”

At the command center, maps were printed with the route to thechurch in expectation of more evacuees.

“We’ll direct them to shelter we have open,” said volunteer KirkDouglas.

Galey said First Baptist is capable of housing about 150people.

“If they get full, we’ll open another shelter,” Galey said.

Galey expected the command center to be open until at leastearly afternoon Thursday. He anticipated the shelter being openinto Friday.

“They’re going to keep it open as long as they’ve got somebodythere,” Galey said.

Davis said First Baptist had far fewer evacuees with Lili thanwith Hurricane Georges in 1998, when almost 200 people came to thechurch. With Hurricane Lili targeted to come close to Natchez laterThursday, Davis expected shelter guests to stay at least untilFriday morning.

“We’re going to encourage them to stay the day with us until thestorm has passed,” Davis said.

At 7:30 a.m. Thursday, Galey said Lincoln County was under atornado watch until 10 a.m.

“It could very well be extended,” Galey said. “We are on theeast side of the storm, and that’s always the worse side.”

According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Lili wasforecast to deliver winds of 20-35 miles per hour in the area untilaround noon, Galey said.

“Then they’re expecting 35-50 mph winds with higher gusts,”Galey said, about the higher winds hitting the county in the earlyafternoon.

Officials expected rainfall amounts of five to eight inches fromLili. That would be on top of more than eight inches of rain lastweek from Tropical Storm Isidore.

“Right now, that’s our main concern,” Galey said.

Galey said the heavy rainfall will further saturate the groundand increase the chances of downed trees and power lines.

“It’s a strong possibility of that this afternoon,” Galeysaid.

Area schools were either closed today or were being dismissedearlier. School officials were keeping an eye on the weather asthey considered courses of action for Friday.

Area electricity company officials reported “so far, so good”Thursday morning, with only scattered outages in their serviceareas. As Lili moved closer, however, they said they wereready.

“We don’t know what Lili will bring, but we are prepared,” saidLucy Shell, member services director for Magnolia Electric. “Wehave been making preparations.”

Around 8:30 a.m., Shell said there were only about 45 poweroutages throughout its service area. Magnolia serves Pike andWalthall counties and parts of Lincoln, Lawrence, Franklin andAmite counties.

Jim Hedges, customer service manager for Entergy, said therewere only scattered outages in the Brookhaven area. He said about1,000 Osyka area customers lost power this morning.

“That was probably due to high wind and rain. We had some prettygood gusts down that way,” Hedges said, adding that power wasrestored to the area in less than one hour.

Hedges said about 13,000 servicemen, technicians and supportstaff from across Entergy’s east Texas to west Mississippi servicearea are available to address storm problems.

Servicemen will not be allowed in disaster areas until it isdeemed safe to return, Hedges said. Therefore, Brookhaven andMcComb are being used as staging areas as the crews makepreparations for power restoration work.

“We have a lot of resources available should there be problemshere,” Hedges said.

Jimmy June, member services director for Southwest ElectricPower Association, said there were a few outages in the Natchezarea this morning. Southwest EPA serves parts of nine areacounties, including approximately 3,300 customer in Lincoln Countyand 2,000 in Copiah County.

“Right now, we’re in pretty good shape,” June said, adding thathe was looking for the situation to worsen as the stormapproaches.

Depending on its severity, June said customers may be withoutpower up to 24 hours. He said the association’s emergency responseplan is in place and crews from other EPAs are standing by ifneeded.

“We will have crews working into the night to restore power,”June said.

Utility company officials asked citizens to report any downedpower lines they see in their service areas.

Hedges said the area was fortunate in that winds are dying downsomewhat.

“We hope it continues to weaken,” Hedges said. “But it is stilla very dangerous storm and everybody needs to treat itseriously.”

CHANGES

* Loyd Star school’s homecoming festivities have been postponeduntil Friday, Oct. 18; the football game scheduled for Friday, Oct.4, with Hinds A.H.S. is still scheduled.

* The Post-Transplant Assistance Fund Concert scheduled for 6:30p.m. Thursday at the McComb High School Auditorium has beenpostponed until Oct. 10.