Chertoff, governors appeal for coast residents to get storm ready

Published 6:28 pm Thursday, June 28, 2007

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff joined governors from Mississippi and Alabama on Wednesday in appealing for Gulf Coast residents to get prepared for the height of hurricane season.

Some 400 delegates to the three-day Mississippi/Alabama Hurricane Conference at the Imperial Palace Casino in Biloxi were urged to return home and sound the “get-ready” storm alarm.

Chertoff said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is better prepared since Katrina struck Aug. 29, 2005, having expanded and filled 95 percent of its jobs.

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At a brief news conference before he returned to Washington, D.C., Chertoff said FEMA has been “retooled dramatically” and will be more involved at earlier stages of a disaster.

“We’ve got a lot more tools,” he said.

He said he expects FEMA will work “side by side with the state from the beginning.”

FEMA was blamed for many problems after Katrina devastated Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of west Alabama. Katrina was the third deadliest hurricane in U.S. history with a death toll topping 1,500.

The Gulf Coast was spared a hurricane hit last year.

“The prediction is for a more intense than normal hurricane season,” Chertoff said. “We have to prepare for the worst.”

Forecasters have predicted an above-average year for the season that runs June 1 through November. They believe there will be 13 to 17 named storms, with seven to 10 of them becoming hurricanes and three to five of those reaching at least Category 3 strength.

“We are in an active period,” National Hurricane Center Director Bill Proenza told the Biloxi meeting.

Proenza pointed to Katrina’s destructive path, coastal population growth and storm statistics in an attempt to raise public awareness of the threat.

The National Hurricane Center also has new technology to track a storm’s path and intensity.

The center announced Wednesday it will use a new computer model that gives meteorologists an analysis of the hurricane in three dimensions from airborne Doppler radar. It will make use of a wide variety of observations from satellites, data buoys and hurricane hunter aircraft.

No other hurricane model accesses this wide a range of meteorological information, NOAA officials said.

Meanwhile FEMA has stockpiled storm supplies, including food, cots, generators and millions of gallons of water.

“We’re asking people to do their part as well,” Chertoff said.

Added Gov. Haley Barbour: “No government can do everything for everybody.”

Barbour vowed to cooperate with Alabama Gov. Bob Riley in the event of a storm, just as the two Republican governors did during Katrina when Alabama sent its National Guard to help its neighbor.

“It makes no sense for us not to plan all of our responses in tandem,” Riley said.

And nearly two years later there’s still Katrina damage to repair.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation in the next few months will take bids for the resurfacing and other repairs on 26 miles of U.S. 90, said district construction engineer Steve Twedt, of Hattiesburg. He said the project will cost $90 million to $100 million.