Area gears up for dicey weather

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 25, 2008

While Tropical Storm Fay makes its way west, dumping rain andsending wind gusts through southern states, emergency managementofficials say Lincoln County appears to be in line for just heavyrain.

“I just got off a conference call with the National WeatherService, and they’re saying we’re looking at somewhere around 6 to10 inches of rain from Sunday to Tuesday morning,”Brookhaven-Lincoln County Civil Defense Director Clifford Galeysaid.

Galey said there are possibilities of wind gusts up to 40 milesan hour, but that at this point the National Weather Service doesnot expect any sustained wind or tornadic activity.

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“The tornado risk doesn’t look like too much right now, but I’llget another update tomorrow morning from the National WeatherService,” Galey said, saying during extreme weather activity, it ispart of his job to keep close tabs on incoming systems through theNWS and other services.

Fay made its fourth landfall around 1 a.m. Saturday, aftercoming from the Gulf of Mexico and zigzagging across Florida.Experts expect Fay will continue to track west-northwest along thenorthern Gulf Coast through the weekend. Galey said while Fay hasbeen unpredictable so far, it appears Lincoln County residents needto be prepared primarily for flooding.

“At this point in time, I don’t think we have any concerns otherthan flooding,” he said. “There’s always a possibility of severeweather, but this appears to be mostly a rain event for us.”

Galey said in preparations, people need to realize the stormcould dump substantially larger amounts of rain on the area thanthe environment is used to.

“We do have potentially six to 10 inches of rain on the way, andthat will flood some places that don’t normally flood,” he said.”But it is only a tropical storm, and we don’t even expect it to bethat by the time it gets here.”

But knowing that Fay has been a wild card so far, Galey saidcounty officials are still bracing in case the storm does turn moreviolent.

“I have notified the elected officials and we’re dealing withthe Red Cross now,” he said. “(The Red Cross) will probably be inthe office tomorrow, and they’re making preliminary preparations toopen the shelters because they deal with both Lincoln and Pikecounties. They have locations designated already and prepared toopen if need be.”

Meanwhile county law enforcement are prepared in case the stormsystem brings downed trees and power lines, Sheriff Steve Rushingsaid.

“Usually whenever we get an indication that the weather is goingto get rough like this, we make sure deputies are on standby,” hesaid. “We call them out as we see the need based on the conditionof the weather.”

Rushing said his officers are prepared to direct traffic in thecase of debris in the road, but that county road crews andvolunteer fire departments are the ones who do the actual clearingof downed trees and other debris.

Ruth Volunteer Fire Chief Teresa Lawrence said as threateningweather approaches, her department has routine procedures theyfollow to make certain they are prepared for any duties they mightincur.

“We just go out there and make sure our generators are gassedup, and our saws are gassed and oiled up, and that the chains aretight on them,” she said. “Just double-check the equipment, andkeep our radios close-by.”

Lawrence said in the past, debris has been the lion’s share ofthe duties undertaken by the volunteers.

“It’s mostly just clearing trees that have blown across theroad,” she said. “And the thing we particularly have to watch whenthe rain is going to come this hard is our low-lying areas.”

When the rain is coming down in buckets, Lawrence said, firedepartments will often have someone riding the roads to keep trackof the problem areas in flooding situations.

“We usually have someone riding the roads and keeping checks onour low lying areas, and when we find them the county puts abarrier up to let the fire department know so we can detour aroundit in case we need to take a fire truck through there,” shesaid.

Galey said while it is important to be aware that the weathercould cause winds and flooding, it is also important to rememberthere is no immediate cause for alarm for most countyresidents.

“Everybody needs to realize this is only a forecast,” he said.”This storm has done crazy things and could change again tomorrow,and people need to be prepared, but not alarmed.”

Rushing agreed, saying people traveling the roads in the countyjust need to be aware that weather circumstances could easily leavelimbs and trees in the roadway.

“Take more precautions when you’re driving, and pay moreattention to the road ahead of you,” he said.

Meanwhile, local hotels and motels say they’re not seeingincreased reservations or people fleeing northward because of theweather, but they have seen additional bookings because of therain.

“Not reservations, but we’ve had people pull over and check inbecause the rain was so hard,” said Super 8 desk clerk AmonenikaPerry. “We’ve had quite a few check-ins today that are people justpassing through who need a place to get out of the weather.”