CTA to provide transportation for coast evacuees when needed

Published 9:22 pm Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Coast Transit Authority says it will rely on public transit and school buses to move Gulf Coast residents who would need to evacuate in an emergency but have limited transportation options.

The plans are designed meet the needs of citizens who lost their cars and trucks to Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29.

Harrison County Emergency Management Director Joe Spraggins estimates 1,000 to 1,500 people might need the service in his coastal county. Similar programs are being implemented in neighboring Hancock and Jackson counties, which are also preregistering people.

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“But we still think they’re much better off if they use their own transportation if they have it,” said Mike Womack, who Monday was named interim director for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. “But if they don’t, if they have a friend or family member that they can ask now, they’re much better off if they develop their own transportation plan.”

The CTA recently unveiled its plans to set up community staging areas in Harrison County and move hurricane evacuees to a central location, then north to Jackson.

The CTA will oversee and implement the plan when emergency managers call for evacuations. The bulk of the vehicles to be used will be school buses.

Meeting points will be announced for each city and in the county.

School buses from local districts will shuttle people to a central staging area where buses arranged for by MEMA will take evacuees upstate. If FEMA does not provide charter buses, school buses from across Mississippi will then be used for the trip to Jackson

“They can go ahead and start calling us immediately for transportation,” CTA Executive Director Kevin Coggin said. “It’s very important we establish as best we can the number of people we’re going to be dealing with so we know what kind of resources we need to have.”

Womack said MEMA’s plans are being drawn up to move 5,000 people, a figure officials admit is probably higher than would occur.

Hancock County Emergency Management Director Brian Adam said his numbers could be 250 to 800, and Butch Loper, his counterpart in Jackson County, anticipates 1,000 users.

“What’s going to be the true test is the first case,” Loper said.

Jackson County evacuees would be taken to the Meridian area. Residents from Harrison and Hancock counties will be evacuated to the Jackson area, with Vicksburg as a backup.

“They’ll have nurses on the bus, security on the bus,” Spraggins said.