Officials say prepare now for hurricane season

Duval Arthur

Preparation for the hurricane season that begins Sunday should include deciding where to go if an evacuation is ordered, said Duval Arthur, Office of Emergency Preparedness director.
“Formulate an evacuation plan now,” Arthur said. “Don’t wake up the day before a hurricane is expected to arrive and start trying to decide where you are going to go.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast a near-normal or below-normal season for the six-month hurricane season. NOAA predicted eight to 13 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), including three to six hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), one or two could become major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher). NOAA’s outlook does not predict how many storms will hit land.
The seasonal average, from 1981 to 2010, is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
Joe Nimmich, Federal Emergency Management Agency associate administrator for response and recovery, said there is no reason to let one’s guard down.
“It only takes one hurricane or tropical storm making landfall to have disastrous impacts on our communities,” Nimmich said. “Take action now to be prepared.”
Commissioner of Insurance James Donelon said in a news release citizens should review insurance policies and make sure they are paid and adequate. Besides making sure coverage is adequate, including flood insurance, Donelon recommends taking a home inventory with pictures or videos of your assets in case you have to file a claim.
Arthur said planning ahead can minimize stress and expense. Arranging now to stay with relatives, friends or even acquaintances can minimize the possibility of having to locate an available hotel room, Arthur said.
“Wherever you go be sure to bring water, snacks and food so you don’t get to your destination empty handed or in case you are stranded on the highway,” Arthur said.
The Louisiana Storm Survival Guide issued for the parish suggests a three to five day supply of food and water when evacuating to an out-of-risk area shelter.
The guide suggests working together and trying to help others at a shelter as well as being as courteous as possible to shelter staff who are likely volunteers. Firearms, weapons and alcohol are not allowed in shelters, according to the guide.
Delaying evacuation could prolong a family’s time on the highway by several hours, especially if New Orleans traffic comes through the area. Arthur recommends those without special needs and who have the means to leave should do so at least 24 hours ahead of a storm’s arrival. If you wait until 12 hours before a storm’s arrival you may have a problem, he said.
There are two primary evacuation routes, with other options possible. Evacuees can use La. 70 to go north. A decision to evacuate east or west depends on the direction from which the storm is coming. In either case, U.S. 90 can be used for east or west travel.
While the route is not recommended there is an alternative west-bound option, Arthur said.
“You can get on the levee in Charenton, if it is absolutely necessary,” Arthur said. The road is gravel part of the way but paved in some areas. We don’t encourage that route, but it is possible and it is one that a lot of people don’t know about.” The road leads to Henderson, and from there I-10 can be accessed. La. 182 is also another route Arthur said could be considered.
The decision to issue a mandatory evacuation order is done after a roundtable discussion involving the parish president, school superintendent, parish mayors and emergency preparedness director, Arthur said.
The parish has planned for the evacuation of those who may be unable to evacuate on their own. Arthur said they will be bused, via 33 contracted school buses and drivers, to Rapides Parish Coliseum in Alexandria. The buses will be capable of evacuating 700 to 800 people to the Red Cross-run shelter where Piccadilly has been contracted to supply the food, Arthur said.
Twelve Louisiana transit buses will be utilized to bring people without transportation to the pickup locations at Morgan City Junior High and Franklin High schools.
Evacuees’ pets will be allowed in Alexandria, Arthur said. Dogs and cats must be crated and they will be transported on a truck making the trip with the buses to Alexandria. They will be kept in the 4-H area behind the coliseum, Arthur said.
At 48 hours prior to a storm’s expected impact, nursing homes, jails, hospitals and homebound individuals with medical conditions are expected to be evacuated.
Nursing homes and hospitals must make their own arrangements for evacuating patients, while the Louisiana Department of Corrections will evacuate prisoners, Arthur said.
There are 25 special-needs homebound patients on a list Arthur generated from reports to his office. Family or patients wanting to verify that a name is on that list can contact his office and speak to Janet at 337-828-4100 extension 136.
Arthur strongly encourages people to heed evacuation orders.
“In an emergency there will be a shelter of last resort,” Arthur said. He said during Gustav about 35 people showed up at the courthouse in Franklin and were allowed to sleep on the floor of the council chamber.
The Morgan City Municipal Auditorium and the parish courthouse in Franklin will be available for use by first responders and police who have stayed behind, but not for their families, Arthur said.
Once a mandatory evacuation is given, no one will be let back into the parish, with few exceptions, until water and electricity has been restored, Arthur said.
Arthur said the easiest way to find out when it’s OK to come back is to check the local Office of Emergency Preparedness’ Facebook page which will be kept updated. Print, radio and television media will also be used.
A re-entry pass will be needed to get back in before the all-clear is given, Arthur said. Those needing a re-entry pass are typically business owners, media and first responders as well as city crews. Contact Janet at the number above for information on obtaining one.
Red level 1 passes will be issued to first responders and city workers who will be allowed earlier re-entry than citizens obtaining the blue level 2 passes. Written application for the pass must include the person’s name and state the justifiable reason for re-entry.
NOAA offers hurricane preparedness tips, along with video and audio public service announcements at www.hurricanes.gov/prepare. Learn more about how to prepare for hurricanes at www.ready.gov/hurricanes.

By PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com

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