[StBernard] Mobile prepares for 2007 hurricane season

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Apr 18 20:32:48 EDT 2007

MONTGOMERY -- State and federal officials converged here Monday to prepare
for the upcoming hurricane season and to simulate a worst-case scenario -- a
slow moving Category 5 hurricane smashing into the coast of Mobile County.
Possible improvements for the 2007 hurricane season include increasing fuel
reserves for relief efforts, housing pets along with evacuees at the state's
two-year colleges, ensuring there are enough generators for key locations
such as hospitals, and designating people to drive school bus routes to pick
up those who do not leave.
Hurricane season begins June 1.

n the wake of several recent hurricanes, preparations have been a key point
of discussion in Alabama and other states that are vulnerable to the
powerful storms.
This is the second year in a row that Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has gathered
experts to discuss hurricane preparations.
Riley said another improvement, sealing off two tunnels in Mobile during the
storms, should be ready for the 2008 hurricane season. He said the other
planned improvements discussed Monday should be ready this year.
The governor was joined at the meeting by all of his Cabinet members,
including Emergency Management Director Bruce Baughman. Other officials
included Rick Knabb of the National Hurricane Center in Miami and Phil May,
Region IV director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The public and press were not allowed to attend the "Governor's Hurricane
Workshop," but several officials did address the media afterward.
Riley spokesman Jeff Emerson said: "It's not a public meeting because the
governor wants the participants to be as candid as possible."
Baughman said participants identified about 10 to 12 issues they can improve
on for the upcoming season.

We probably have the most sophisticated, the most comprehensive, the most
strategic plan I think in the country, but there are still things that need
to be better," Riley said.
The governor said participants spent notable time discussing pets. He said
officials have learned from previous storms that some people will not leave
if it means abandoning their pets. They are considering how to kennel pets
at the colleges and if pets should be transported to the campuses on the
school buses with people.
The bus routes would follow those used by school systems and pick up those
who had not left on their own or who were unable to leave.

Riley said he also wants to store 100,000 to 200,000 gallons of fuel to be
used by emergency workers, Alabama Power, the Alabama National Guard and
other necessary entities. He said there had been a shortage of fuel for
response vehicles following some past storms.
The plans discussed Monday include sealing off both the Bankhead and Wallace
tunnels in Mobile.
The Bankhead Tunnel currently has metals doors that employees with the
Alabama Department of Transportation can close.
Tony Harris, spokesman for the transportation department, said the Bankhead
Tunnel has been sealed twice in the last three years. He said the metal
doors are closed and then thick plastic sheeting and sand are used to
protect the tunnel against "water infiltration."
Further details about sealing the two tunnels were unavailable late Monday
In May, state officials will conduct the annual reverse lane drill, in which
all lanes of Interstate 65 are opened up to northbound traffic to allow more
people to evacuate in the event of a major storm, Harris said.
At the same time, the transportation department will operate its phone
center drill, a test of the state's system to answer calls from the public
and emergency responders about evacuations, transportation conditions and
other information.
A Category 5 hurricane hitting Bayou La Batre would be the worst case
scenario, Knabb said. At least 30,000 homes would be destroyed and the
impact on business would be "devastating," Riley said. Nothing above a
Category 3 has ever hit the Alabama Gulf Coast, according to Riley,
Baughman, and other officials.
"The consequences would be catastrophic and immediate," Riley said.
The participants Monday tested the state's emergency plan, which they said
has been effective in helping to evacuate thousands from the Gulf Coast and
respond to destruction during previous hurricanes.
About 20,000 to 25,000 people can be housed temporarily at the state's
two-year colleges, Riley and Baughman said. Riley said that solution is
short-term, however. He said the state must have sites with access to
utilities to locate trailers for people who have lost their homes.
"Everybody concentrates on the three days before and the three days after,
but really what is critical to most of these families is what happens seven
days after storm," Riley said.
With a hurricane the size of the one simulated Monday, Riley said the storm
would be more than a "coastal event" with utility outages and other fallout
affecting the entire state. The sustained winds in the hurricane would be at
160 mph when the storm made landfall.
Knabb said the National Hurricane Center will release its forecast of the
hurricane season in May. He said citizens and those in government should not
base their plans and preparedness solely on that forecast because hurricane
season can be unpredictable.

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