Gustav prompts city to prepare

Published 11:20 pm Saturday, August 30, 2008

The threat of a hurricane bearing down on the Louisiana and Mississippi Golf Coast has Picayune city officials and electric companies preparing for the worst.

Two separate meetings, one at city hall and another at the Picayune Police Department, informed city employees of what will be done to prepare the city and what is expected of its employees.

Picayune residents will have access to sandbags Sunday on a self serve basis on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Monday from 7 a.m. until, said Public Works director Chad Frierson. Sand, bags and shovels will be on hand for residents to prepare their own bags. There are three locations to get the bags, halfway down Pinewood Drive off Martin Luther King, at city hall at 815 Beech Street, and at the corner of Palestine Road and Beech Street.

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A major concernfor city officials was the implementation of contraflow, which could diminish supplies for local residents.

“In the last aftermath, we had no fuel in the tanks and no food on the shelves,” Picayune Police Deputy Chief Ervin said.

Fire Chief Keith Brown said contra flow is expected to start Sunday morning, but officials at the Police Department meeting said that contraflow could begin as early as Saturday evening. Brown said there is the possibility of closing exits into Picayune and surrounding areas to limit incoming traffic, but he needs word from the state level before the city can do that.

There is still the question of where the storm is going to make landfall, which won’t be certain until the storm system moves closer to land.

Residents who have special needs will have access to a special needs shelter located in Poplarville at the Pearl River Community College nursing facility at the rear of the campus, Brown said.

Sunday at 2 p.m., a meeting will be held to update city officials on the status of the storm and what actions will be necessary. The meeting also will determine whether schools will be open on Tuesday or not, said Interim City Manager Harvey Miller.

Mississippi Power Co. representatives said about 3,000 workers are stationed and ready to respond to downed power lines. Critical areas such as schools, hospitals and city buildings will have power restored first.

A distribution point will be set up at Friendship Park, if it is needed. The Mississippi National Guard will manage the site and distribute supplies in an orderly fashion. Entry to the distribution point will be on Haugh Avenue and traffic will be directed out onto U.S. 11. Deputy Fire Chief John Mark Mitchell said that baby supplies should be distributed at a separate, undetermined location.

Faith-based organizations were a big help after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. If Gustav causes similar damage to Pearl River County, residents can expect them to return with some assistance. Police Chaplain the Rev. Darrel Whorley said that faith-based organizations usually go to areas that are hardest hit by a storm. Councilman Jerry Bounds suggested having them work with the local governments to keep the distribution of supplies orderly.

After Katrina many people came to the county offering help. While their help would be appreciated, they need to come prepared with their own supplies, such as food, water or shelter, Brown said.

Water and sewer services in the city should remain operational for the most part. Utility Authority engineer Brooks Wallace said three generators have been set aside for the three major sewer lift stations in the city. Three more generators also have been requested from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Picayune Police officers and staff were instructed that if the storm becomes a definite threat to the area, they are to report to the department as soon as possible. Officers will work in 12 hour shifts, rotating half on, half off, Ervin said. Officers will be stationed at all fire departments, city hall and the Criminal Justice Center. The plan is to have the department restored to operation as soon as possible, Chief Jim Luke said.

“We are prepared for the worst and we hope that we don’t get any of it at all,” Ervin said.

Citizens will have access to information at the police department, such as shelter locations and where supplies can be secured. Relief workers will have to report to the department to secure identification.