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City preps for 2 days of hard freeze

Stay off the roads, is the message all of the emergency managers in Pearl River County want residents to hear.

“Our number one concern is our citizens and the safety of those citizens,” said Picayune City Manager Jim Luke. “This (the winter weather forecast) is a very unusual event.”

Residents of the city or county with emergencies should call 911, he said.

He also said City Hall will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday so citizens don’t need to worry about paying water and gas bills on those two days.

Luke and other city agency directors spoke of the local preparations at a Monday morning press conference at Picayune City Hall. Also present were Picayune Mayor Ed Pinero, the county road manager Dale Miller and District 5 Supervisor Sandy Kane Smith.

Smith, who is in the heating and air conditioning business said those with heat pumps need to put those heat pumps on “emergency heat” if they start getting cold.

A message came in from Danny Manley, Pearl River County Emergency Operations manager, saying all public schools in Pearl River County are closed, including Pearl River Community College, as well as the schools in Hancock County and in St. Tammany Parish, La.

“It’s going to start freezing Tuesday morning and it’s likely to stay freezing through Thursday,” said Keith Brown, Picayune fire chief and emergency operations coordinator. “If you don’t have to be out, don’t go out.”

Brown said the city and county are preparing for the unusual mixture of ice and snow over the next two to three days “much as we would for a hurricane.”

He said emergency personnel are “much more prepared for this weather than we were Friday” when three people were killed on the U.S. Highway 11 bridge over Hobolochitto Creek and a fourth person had to be airlifted to a hospital in New Orleans.

Picayune Police Chief Brian Dawsey said both day shifts will be on duty throughout the day at least on Tuesday and Wednesday, and both night shifts will be on duty throughout those nights as well.

He said school security officers are put on duty with the police department to have as many officers available as possible.

He and Brown said the police officers and firefighters will respond to emergencies as rapidly as they safely can do so, though both departments possibly could become overwhelmed with emergency calls.

City Public Works Director Eric Morris said the city is much better prepared than it was Friday night when the city and county were caught off guard by the freezing rain and ice.

He explained, however, that bridges can’t be sanded prior to their icing over because then the sand absorbs the water and freezes, making the matter much worse.

Miller said the Mississippi Department of Transportation also was caught off guard Friday, but has equipment and materials down here to handle the forecast weather.

“They normally aren’t prepared for anything south of Hattiesburg,” he said.

Miller also said the county has several tons of salt on hand for Tuesday and Wednesday..

He said MDOT’s procedure is to spray down bridges with a salt solution, but not to put any sand on a bridge unless it freezes over, and then only after the moisture is frozen on the bridge.

Morris and Dawsey said the city is locating barriers at bridges within the city to close the bridges off if they start freezing over.

Byron Hill with Mississippi Power Co. and Mark Wallace with Coast Electric warned there possibly could be power outages because of the amount of snow and ice forecast — two to four inches.

Also expected are gusty winds, which with the ice and snow built up on tree branches could cause the branches to break and drop them on power lines. That much ice and snow buildup on lines also could cause the lines to snap in the gusty winds..

Wallace asked that people with generators be careful not to hook them up in such a way that would cause them to send power into a line electric company employees are working on because that could cause the workers to be electrocuted.

“Hook them to the device you want to receive power,” Wallace said.

Both Luke and Miller said emergency updates will be available on city and county Facebook pages — City Hall of Picayune and Pearl River County EOC. The city page will list city streets and bridges closed and the county’s page will list county roads and bridges that are closed.