County officials prepare for worst

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2005

As Hurricane Katrina churned in the Gulf of Mexico Saturday,Brookhaven and Lincoln County officials made preparations shouldshe impact southwest Mississippi.

Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey reported relatively smoothoperations Saturday night.

“Everything’s going OK now,” Galey said.

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Earlier Saturday, Galey met with city and county officials, whodeclared a local state of emergency.

“Hopefully, we have all our emergency services prepared aftermeeting this afternoon,” Galey said.

On Brookway Boulevard Saturday night, several restaurant parkinglots were full and drive-thru services busy. Some hotel parkinglots weren’t full, but clerks expected evacuees who made earlierreservations to fill them later in the night and Sunday.

“We’re getting a lot of walk-ins and calls,” said Mitch Patel atBest Western on Magee Drive.

Patel and Peggy May, weekend desk clerk at the nearby ComfortInn, reported a few vacancies Saturday. However, those could offeronly a temporary respite for evacuating travelers.

“They’re wanting to get somewhere and be settled,” May said.”They’re going farther north.”

Hotel officials said those with reservations had done so to havea place for several days. May said she checked with other localhotels earlier Saturday and they were also booked for the next fewdays.

“They’re in the same situation we’re in,” May said.

While many travelers were heading north, Vanessa Billiot wastraveling south on Interstate 55 when she learned of the hurricanepreparations Saturday afternoon. Billiot, of Port Sulphur, La.,about 50 miles south of New Orleans, was returning after picking upher daughter, Alexis, at Coahoma Community College inClarksdale.

“We knew there was a storm, but we thought it was headed towardFlorida,” said Billiot during a stop at the Comfort Inn.

Billiot, who had been looking for vacancies in town, wasconsidering claiming one of the hotel’s vacancies for the evening.She was expecting her husband and father to arrive in Brookhavenbefore planning their next move.

Donnie Stewart, with the East Lincoln Volunteer Fire Department,was evacuated Saturday from an oil rig in the Gulf. With heavytraffic on Interstate 10, he said it took over two hours to getfrom east of Slidell to Interstate 55.

“It was first gear all the way,” Stewart said while stopping bythe civil defense office Saturday night.

At Hammond, Stewart was shifted and traveled north in thesouthbound I-55 lane. It had been contraflowed to handle theevacuation.

“It wasn’t any trouble there or anything,” Stewart said abouttraffic.

Mark Chambers, a member of the state Health Department’semergency response team, said the contraflow was ordered at 4 p.m.Saturday. Interstates 55 and 59 traffic were modified for theevacuation.

“There’s 1.6 million people in New Orleans trying to getsomewhere,” Chambers said.

Chambers and Chris Reid, another member of the team, were headedto Hattiesburg Sunday to assist with coordination of healthdepartment-related activities on the coast.

“We manage the hospitals and nursing homes during the evacuationprocess,” Chambers said.

For Lincoln County, Galey said forecasts predict this area tosee effects of the storm after daybreak Monday. He said citizensshould bring in loose items from their yards and take otherprecautions should high winds come this way.

“We haven’t had a major storm come through here in a while,”Galey said. “We need for people to be aware and be prepared.”

Regarding possible school closures Monday, Galey saidBrookhaven, Lincoln County, Brookhaven Academy and Copiah-LincolnCommunity College officials would be making those decisions Sundayafternoon.

Galey said there are no plans to open any emergency shelters inLincoln County. Evacuees are being encouraged to go to Jackson andfarther north.

“If we take the brunt of the storm here, we may need to takecare of our own people,” said Galey, mentioning the possibility ofshelters opening for that purpose.

Police Chief Pap Henderson said his department was also keepinga close watch on weather and related conditions.

“We’ll make our moves (Sunday),” said Henderson, referring tohaving officers on standby to work if needed. “We’re going to beready to move. We don’t want to do it too soon.”

Galey said he would be contact with city and county officials.He said another meeting with them is possible Sunday should weatherconditions warrant.