Officials declare states of emergency

Published 5:00 am Friday, August 29, 2008

Officials declared a local state of emergency for Brookhaven andLincoln County Thursday just hours before Gov.Haley Barbourdeclared one for the state.

In a meeting that included the board of aldermen, the board ofsupervisors, Mayor Bob Massengill, Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishopand other elected officials, Lincoln County Civil Defense DirectorClifford Galey gave an overview of what the area can expect to seefrom incoming Tropical Storm Gustav, which is steadily buildingpower and is threatening to quickly become a hurricane.

Galey said signing the local state of emergency gives PoliceChief Pap Henderson and Sheriff Steve Rushing the authority theyneed to keep things under control as thousands of people streamthrough Lincoln County in the process of leaving the coast.

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“They’re expected to contraflow Interstate 55 Saturday night,but it could be Sunday morning,” Galey said, explaining that boththe north and south lanes of the interstate would flow north fromBogue Chitto south to the coast.

Galey said buses, trains and other organized groups evacuatingNew Orleans are expected to take I-55 north and have been told notto stop before Jackson except in the case of medical emergency.

Barbour signed in the state of emergency Thursday afternoon.

“I urge all Mississippians to please take this storm seriously.One of the most important lessons we learned after HurricaneKatrina was that there is no substitute for awareness andself-help, especially in the days before a hurricane is predictedto hit,” Barbour said in a statement. “Now is the time to prepareyourself, your family and your friends.”

Civil Defense has multiple daily conference calls with theNational Weather Service and the Mississippi Emergency ManagementAgency among other officials and agencies, and that he will keeplocal officials informed at each change.

Current forecasts indicate Gustav will enter the Gulf of Mexicoover the weekend, strengthen and continue tracking northwest ornorth. It could threaten some part of the gulf coast by LaborDay.

Galey explained he was told that by Monday evening or Tuesdaymorning, the storm could be a category three or four storm when ithits. He said if the storm moves west toward Texas, it couldpotentially be a worse situation for Lincoln County as it will beon the more violent eastern side of the storm.

“So we’d much rather see it turn east,” he said.

District One Supervisor and Board President the Rev. JerryWilson said he doesn’t think there is cause for alarm, butpreparation is a wise choice.

“I don’t believe it’s going to happen,” he said. “But it’s goodto be prepared. We’re ready for whatever.”

Bishop said during Hurricane Katrina, the biggest thing area lawenforcement and emergency workers had to deal with was not so muchthe weather as the influx of travelers.

“It wasn’t the wind and the rain and all the water, but I-55,all those people that came in and how to handle that,” he said.

Galey said he had been told that the National Guard and the AirGuard would be activated. In addition, he said, there have beennumerous calls about the possibility of setting up shelters.

“Hopefully that won’t be necessary, and if it is, we hope it’snot the magnitude of last time,” he said.

District Two Supervisor Bobby Watts reminded the group that theDistrict Two barn is close to the city and will be available if itssupplies and equipment are needed.

Wilson demanded officials inform him of any new information thatshould come through during the time of the storm. Galey said hewould contact Massengill and Bishop and let them disperse theinformation to city and county officials, respectively.

Henderson asked Galey if volunteer help would be more organizedthis time around, as during Katrina there were often morevolunteers than were needed in some areas.

“People felt like they were here to help, but then they werejust sitting, waiting for someone to give them something to do,”Henderson said.

Galey said organized assistance requests should stem that issuea bit, saying the forms that will go to MEMA will allow for a timeframe and exact numbers to be a part of the request.

Meanwhile, officials feel that dealing with Gustav, howeverstrong it may become, will be a different task than HurricaneKatrina. It was Katrina that taught them how to take the correctemergency precautions.

“We’re much more prepared this time,” said Massengill.”