Mississippi braces for second hurricane season since Katrina

Published 3:45 pm Friday, June 1, 2007

Federal, state and local officials are urging Mississippi coastal residents to begin preparations now for the 2007 hurricane season, if they haven’t already.

The hurricane season began Friday, the second since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Mississippi coast in August 2005.

Forecasters from Miami to Colorado are predicting an active season with up to 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and as many as five major hurricanes. The season runs through Nov. 30.

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In Mississippi, experts all say the same thing: plan ahead, stock up. They say preparedness is the key to personal safety.

Chuck Evans says he has listened to them.

“We’ve got quite a bit of stuff here,” said Evans, of Richland.

Evans said he and his wife Vi have stocked in their Richland home, including extra food.

The Evanses’ recipe for disaster relief can be traced to at least two sources: their religion — Mormon — whose leaders urge members to load up on at least a year’s worth of necessities; and the six months they spend each year on remote Kodiak Island in Alaska, where nature can be temperamental and perilous.

The lessons they’ve absorbed about disaster preparedness in general can be helpful to potential hurricane survivors in particular, says Terry Lightheart, emergency services manager for the Central Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Mike Reader, chief meteorologist at WLOX-TV, said he tries to get residents to prepare without making them fearful of a storm for the next six months.

“What we’re telling them is that predictions are just that – predictions,” Reader told The Sun Herald newspaper. “If those predictions are right, then we’ll have a better chance of getting hit. My philosophy has always been that if you have 30 storms and none of them hit you, then it’s a good season. If there’s one storm and it hits you, then it’s a bad season.”

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency is advising residents to leave when an evacuation is ordered rather than waiting until a storm gets closer, especially if their home isn’t sturdy.

“For some residents, this will be the second hurricane season in FEMA travel trailers or mobile homes,” said Mike Womack, director of MEMA. “Residents should know that because these units are not safe to stay in during severe weather, they will be asked to evacuate before others and to leave their trailers or mobile homes behind.”

Experts say 2006’s quiet season should not make coastal residents complacent.

“Last year shouldn’t be taken as an indication that the active era is over,” said Gerry Bell, lead forecaster for NOAA.

He said the active period began in 1995 and could last up to 40 years.

An El NiIno developed last year, which affects wind patterns and creates more wind shear; this can keep storms from forming, steer them away from land or tear them apart if they do form.

Emergency officials say residents should have a hurricane-supply kit with at least five days’ worth of food and water, and they also should figure out what route they will take if they decide to evacuate.

Generators come in small, portable, gas-powered units which must be taken out and hooked up and require extension cords to run appliances; the larger mobile units, which are more expensive; and standby, which are permanently installed and turn on automatically in case of a power outage.

“If you just want to keep your lights on, a small, gasoline generator will do just fine,” says Eric Johnston, CEO of Americas Generators, based in Miami. To run your entire house, say a 1,500- to 3,000-square-foot home, you can get a standby.

“You never want to install these yourself. You need a permit, you must comply with local codes and, possibly, deal with homeowners associations. The advantage is that it’s always there and reliable year round,” Johnston said.

Of course, generators don’t help you if and when you evacuate. For that, you’ll need an emergency pack ready to go right now, said the Red Cross’ Lightheart.

“You’ll need your medication, extra cash — because the ATMs won’t work if the electricity is out – and vital documents, including your insurance plan.

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea to make copies of those documents right now and send them to a trusted relative or friend.

“You need battery-powered radios, flashlights, sanitation and hygiene items, including tissue paper. You’ll need a first-aid kit, and we recommend that everyone take first-aid courses.

“If you have a baby, you’ll need extra diapers and formula,” he said.

In case your family members get scattered, decide on a general meeting place, and designate one person everyone can call to check on each other.

Have a list of numbers to call for help, including those for the MEMA and the Salvation Army, Lightheart said.

On the Net:

Federal Emergency Management Agency, http://www.fema.gov

MEMA, http://www.msema.org

Red Cross, http://www.redcross.org