Contraflow starts Sunday

Published 5:00 am Saturday, August 30, 2008

BILOXI (AP) – Dozens of school buses will head to Mississippi’sGulf Coast on Sunday to speed evacuations as powerful HurricaneGustav looms, Gov. Haley Barbour said.

Barbour also said Mississippi and Louisiana officials would openall lanes of interstates 55 and 59 into Missisissippi at 4 a.m.Sunday to help get people out of the New Orleans area faster.

The governor stressed Saturday that residents still strugglingto recover from Hurricane Katrina three years ago should not belulled into thinking Gustav will pass safely to the west.

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“We all know from Ivan and Katrina that they have a tendency …to kick to the east right at the last,” Barbour said. “Ivan kickedright and came in on the east side of Mobile.”

A hurricane watch has been issued for the Mississippi coast.

“People need to prepare that we will start having seriousweather conditions during the night Sunday and early Monday,” hesaid.

State Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds said 125 buseswould help evacuees find safe shelters in Jackson and elsewhere inthe state.

One-way traffic on the major north-south interstates, known ascontraflow, will continue until midnight Sunday. Hours could beextended if traffic remains heavy.

All lanes of Interstate 59 from the Louisiana state line toPoplarville and Interstate 55 from the Louisiana state line toBogue Chitto will be northbound. Southbound traffic will bererouted.

Even as coastal officials made final preparations, PresidentBush declared a state of emergency statewide, ordering federal aidto supplement state and local response efforts.

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health removed dozens ofpatients from the South Mississippi Regional Medical Center in LongBeach. Other community living facilities were also evacuated.

Jackson County officials said there would be a mandatoryevacuation for all residents living in low-lying areas, mobilehomes, cottages and FEMA travel trailers beginning 8 a.m.Sunday.

Meanwhile, some 1,300 Mississippi National Guard soldiers wentdoor-to-door in Harrison and Hancock counties Saturday to alertthousands of families living in FEMA trailers and cottages thatthey should be prepared to evacuate Sunday. Residents inflood-prone areas were also being contacted. Soldiers passed outfliers in three languages explaining the danger and told them theywould have to leave.

Barbour said some residents told the soldiers their bags werepacked and they were staying to watch the weather ontelevision.

“If you’ve got your bags packed, batten down the hatches at home… and then go on and leave,” Barbour said.

Jeff Rent, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Managementagency, said Saturday that Jackson County is expected to join theevacuation list Monday.

Barbour said earlier Saturday that he would remain inMississippi and not travel to the Republican National Convention”until after the effects of Gustav and Hannah are known – and thenonly if Mississippi is in the clear.”

While traffic was moving smoothly right along the coast underclear skies and temperatures warming into the low 90s, a steadyprocession of Louisiana motorists streamed northward on Mississippiinterstates toward Jackson and other points to the north.

“I’m looking out here right now and about every pump is busy,”Neal Bozeman said Saturday at his U.S. Highway 84 Chevron inBrookhaven along Interstate 55. “You can see LSU and Saints jerseysas they get in and out of their cars.”

Meanwhile, traffic on major roadways along the coast, includingheavily traveled U.S. Highway 90 along the beach, was movingnormally early Saturday but intensified later in the day.

Vincent Creel, a spokesman for Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway, saidcrews had moved quickly to complete pending roadwork to free allfour lanes for traffic.