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Local shelters won’t open until necessary

Hurricane Gustav, which is threatening to hit the MississippiGulf Coast as a Category 5 level with sustained winds possibly upto 150 miles per hour, is also proving reminiscent of Katrina as itlooks to be coming ashore on the same weekend as the catastrophicevent just three years ago.

Lincoln County Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey saidSaturday night that the National Weather Service informed him thestorm had reached Category 4 level and would probably be up to aCategory 5 by landfall.

“This is an extremely powerful and damaging storm,” he said.”And it has sped up some and we expect the outer bands of it to hitus tomorrow after midnight, probably with sustained tropical stormforce winds.”

Galey said with the current forecast track, it looks as thoughGustav will meet the Gulf coast as early as late Sunday evening,causing possible tornadic activity and plenty of heavy rain.

“This is a large and powerful hurricane,” he said. “We arelooking at a significant tornado risk, they said, as early asSunday night in the Highway 84 corridor.”

The possibilities of flooding can’t quite be gauged at thispoint, Galey said, because it depends so much on what happens toGustav after it makes landfall.

“After midnight (Sunday night), we’re looking at possibleisolated tornadoes, and we’re uncertain as to how much heavy rainand flooding it will bring in,” he said. “It looks like it could be10-15 inches of rain in a short period of time.”

Galey said the National Weather Service said the landfall willmore than likely be in south to central Louisiana, but that areasas far east as Gulfport and as far west as Beaumont, Texas, arestill in the possible path. He said the devastation trail left byGustav could be extremely large, as tropical storm force windscould cover an area as wide as 270 miles.

The most significant impact could be southwest of the line fromHattiesburg to Lake Providence, La., he said, but Gustav has beenunpredictable up to this point.

Galey held a meeting with officials from various law enforcementagencies, the Red Cross, Entergy, King’s Daughters Medical Center,Wal-Mart, local volunteer fire departments, and other agencies onFriday afternoon to discuss emergency plans as the stormapproaches.

At the top of the list for discussion were the issues ofInterstate 55 contraflow and when to open shelters for peoplefleeing the storm.

Galey said it appeared that contraflow would begin at 4 a.m.Sunday, with it going from the coast up to the crossover just northof Bogue Chitto.

Meanwhile, officials asked local shelters not to open untilSunday evening in order to encourage people to continue north.

Part of the problem officials discussed was that some LincolnCounty residents could end up needing to use the shelters, too, asit is hard to tell how strong the storm will be by the time itreaches Brookhaven.

“We think it could be worse than Katrina because people areactively trying to evacuate,” Galey said. “We won’t be opening themuntil we deem it necessary.”

Meanwhile, Zetus Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dale Andingasked what the arrangements would be for volunteers to fuel theirvehicles if the county was going to be expecting them to clear theroads of trees in addition to running fire and first respondercalls.

“I’m going to have to say up front that if there are problemsfor the volunteer fire departments to get gas in their cars, Zetuswon’t be able to clear the roads,” he said. “The county has crewsfor cutting trees, but we’re going to need to save our gas for ourcalls.”

Ruth Fire Chief Teresa Lawrence agreed with Anding, saying herdepartment had had to go as far as Vidalia, La., to get gas duringHurricane Katrina.

Galey said he has requests in with FEMA for a fuelarrangement.

Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson asked about financialassistance for the evacuees, as long lines and unruly crowds werean issue during Katrina as well.

“We will notify law enforcement before we do that,” Galey said.”Unless someone goes over our head and does something we don’t knowabout, you’ll know first.”

Meanwhile, Centerpoint Energy officials issued a statementadvising people about safely dealing with gas issues duringhurricane weather, saying customers should not try to turn offtheir natural gas at the meter, as it would interfere with properpressure in the gas piping in the house.