Prep focuses on shelter, fuel tanks

Published 5:00 am Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tropical Storm Gustav is still snaking around the southern coastof Cuba and not expected to make landfall until late Monday orTuesday, but the coastal residents of Louisiana and Mississippihave already begun to give the storm some space.

As of Wednesday afternoon, every hotel room in the city isreserved for next week, local residents have begun lining up at gasstations and area churches are standing by to open their doors asshelters.

“The chamber began receiving calls yesterday asking for a fax oran e-mail listing all of our local hotels because all they couldfind on the Internet were booked,” said Brookhaven-Lincoln CountyChamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Cliff Brumfield.”Families that have lived through these experiences know to goahead and book their rooms in advance to have a safe zone.”

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Generally, local hotel employees said the rush of reservationsbegan coming in Monday, all rooms were booked by Wednesday and theLouisianans will begin arriving in town Saturday.

“We’ve sold out starting Saturday through next Friday,” saidHampton Inn Desk Clerk Cassie Hunsucker. “If people call, we canput them on a waiting list, but there’s no guarantee they’llactually get a room.”

Hunsucker said McComb’s Hampton Inn was booked as well. She saidthe hotels are trying to prepare for the influx of clients byoverstocking supplies.

America’s Best Inn Desk Clerk Alecia Smith said her hotel has 40vacant rooms now, but New Orleans residents have reserved every onestarting Saturday. There is no waiting list, she said.

Lincoln Inn and Suites General Manager Allan Farnum said thelack of vacancy was not just local to Brookhaven and McComb.

“Hotels are pretty much at capacity all the way to Jackson,” hesaid.

Farnum said his hotel was still taking some reservations as ofWednesday at 5 p.m., and a few more rooms may become availabledepending on his present company.

“We’ve had some construction workers that have been here for awhile – if the hurricane comes and they leave, we’ll have somerooms open up,” he said. “It just all depends on what this thingdoes.”

In the event that New Orleans issues a mandatory evacuationorder – which it is considering – the local American Red Cross ismaking preparations to activate 11 shelters in Franklin, Lawrence,Lincoln and Pike counties.

Disaster Services Director Melissa Smith said volunteers whoserved during Hurricane Katrina are being contacted and activated.She said anyone wishing to volunteer should visit the office on 228West Court St. in Brookhaven.

“We need as many volunteers as are willing to sign up,” shesaid. “We definitely need all the help we can get.”

Most of the shelters are located at churches in the Brookhavenarea, including Easthaven Baptist Church, Macedonia Baptist Church,First Baptist Church and Faith Presbyterian. All are on standby,waiting for the American Red Cross to issue to the order toopen.

“We are ready to open our doors and we’re waiting for them tolet us know,” said First Baptist Church Associate Pastor JeffDoremus. “We’ve checked our supplies as far as bedding androoms.”

Doremus said the church could house about 200 people in the twofloors of its education facility, and offers individual rooms forfamilies for privacy. The church has plenty of kitchen power,showers and restrooms, he said.

“We’re ready – we’ve done it before and we’ll do it again,”Doremus said.

Macedonia Baptist Pastor Garland Boyd said his church is makingthe same preparations. The church can accommodate about 200 people,he said, and still has plenty of supplies – like cots and freezersfull of ice – left over from Katrina. Macedonia also has a doublekitchen and shower facilities.

The churches are also recruiting volunteers from their owncongregations to assist the American Red Cross personnel. FaithPresbyterian member Danny Crozier, whose place of worship can housearound 175 people, said volunteers from other churches around thecounty would also pitch in.

“We have other churches in the community that can’t serve asfacilities because of they don’t have enough space or are locatedfar from town,” he said. “They are volunteering to assist otherchurches that have shelters.”

While New Orleans residents are making preparations to migratenorth early next week, local residents are stocking up on suppliesto carry them through in case of power outage – particularlygas.

Brookhaven’s service stations were swamped with activity around5 p.m. Wednesday as people gassed up their vehicles and filled up5-gallon jugs to run generators. Many remembered the post-HurricaneKatrina power outages that made gas unavailable for days in2005.

“At the time, I worked at the hospital and had trouble gettingback and forth to work,” said Dena Baye as she filled up herChevrolet pickup. “That’s a challenge I don’t want to go throughagain.”

Meadville’s Phyllis Whittington filled up her vehicle, two5-gallon jugs and most of a third jug before the pump stopped at$100 and refused to divulge any further fuel. She said she wouldreturn later to fill up more jugs for her home’s generator.

“After Katrina, we didn’t have electricity, we didn’t have agenerator – anything,” Whittington said.

Some of the pump’s patrons were making financial preparationsinstead of disaster preparations. As the price of gas jumpedWednesday on fears that Tropical Storm Gustav would temporarilyclose down the oil drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico, somepeople were not worried about supply, but saving money.

“I just wanted to make sure I had plenty of gas before it wentup anymore,” said David A. Williams. “What is it – $3.57 today? Itkeeps going up.”

As far as economics are concerned, Brumfield said Tropical StormGustav – if it makes landfall – could be both a blessing and acurse.

“When a large influx of people comes to our area, we see anincrease in local revenue as people stay in our hotels and eat atour restaurants,” he said. “But it’s bittersweet – if Gustav makeslandfall and brings weather similar to that brought by Katrina,many local businesses will go through numerous days without cashflow. A day or two of slow sales is one thing, but to miss anentire week after several slow months is another issue.”

In the event of a weeklong power outage, Brumfield said recoverywould begin when power is restored and people head out to buy theitems they’ve been missing.