MDOT kept moving during Gustav

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 14, 2008

We were very fortunate during Katrina that Natchez and Adams County received very little damage and power outages, but we were not as fortunate last week during Gustav. The strong winds on the east side of Gustav and the heavy rains pounded us and the surrounding counties for days. Trees fell across the highways and torrential rains flooded the roads but the dedicated MDOT maintenance crews and the MDOT law enforcement officers did not hesitate to go out into the brunt of the storm to keep the roads open.

Monday afternoon when Gustav was making himself known in this area, Bud Vines and his four-county maintenance crews and the district floating crews (troubleshooters) put on their rain gear and worked from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m. Tuesday morning clearing U.S. 61 South for evacuees from Louisiana. This is what they do and they do it without complaint. They were assisted by the wonderful troopers of the Mississippi Highway Patrol and additional officers of MDOT Law Enforcement sent by Willie Huff, Director of MDOT Law Enforcement, to keep traffic under control during this time. The MDOT officers also assisted Entergy with traffic control around fallen trees as they worked to restore power. Vance Custer, maintenance assistant, worked long hours taking numerous calls and informing the crews of each new hazardous situation.

They rested for a few hours and were back out in the deluge until 9 p.m. Tuesday evening again removing trees from the road and handling the mudslides and flooding that started from the saturated soil. Road closures were done on dangerous sections of the highways and MDOT employees were stationed in shifts on site to monitor situations.

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Willie Huff, having been former Police Chief of Natchez, sent additional personnel to offer support to city and county law enforcement agencies. As gasoline was in somewhat short supply, Willie had a fuel truck delivered to Natchez to make sure there was a constant supply of fuel for law enforcement. Willie also had the MDOT Law Enforcement Mobile Command Center brought to Natchez to facilitate coordination efforts of area law enforcement.

Not only do I want to give kudos to our excellent MDOT personnel, I also want to give a sincere “thank you” to Senator Roger Wicker; Lt. Governor Phil Bryant; and Haley Fisackerly, CEO and President of Entergy, for making personal visits to Natchez to see first-hand the havoc caused by Gustav. They were each astounded by what they saw. Sen. Wicker, having worked with the Mississippi Highway Department in the summers when he was going to college, particularly wanted to visit with MDOT personnel to get a view of Gustav from their experience and to give them a pat on the back for their tireless efforts.

On Tuesday of this week, Executive Director Butch Brown and Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown approved a contact for “first pass debris removal and disposal” in Adams and Franklin Counties for $181,000. They put the inevitable clean-up process on a fast-track basis when Gustav was a certainty to cause damage in our area and the others areas to be affected by the hurricane.

Now to the outstanding employees of Entergy and the power crews from out-of-state, Southwest Mississippi EPA and AT&T, thank you all for your long hours and commitment in getting Natchez/Adams County up and running again as quickly as possible.

The MDOT maintenance crews and the maintenance personnel of the other agencies and the various law enforcement personnel are the ones who take care of business when everyone else is home safe and out of the elements. These are the people we see every day and never give a second thought to what they do to keep our roads open, our lights on and our phones working.

It is with utmost pride that I say “excellent job” to the men and women of MDOT in their service to the citizens of Mississippi and our neighbors in Louisiana. Your dedication to service and your work ethics are without bounds. I consider myself proud to be a part of the MDOT family.

Janet Sullivan, assistant to MDOT Commissioner Wayne Brown