Leaders: Be prepared, do not panic

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — A standing room crowd fills the VIdalia City Hall Tuesday during a city meeting about the current predicted flood.

VIDALIA — The anxiety level was apparent from the cars in the parking area surrounding Vidalia City Hall Tuesday, and news delivered inside didn’t change things much.

Concordia Parish residents need to be prepared for the worst, leaders said.

Mississippi River floodwaters could soon fill houses and businesses, but most city leaders say they don’t think that will happen.

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More than 100 people — the most Mayor Hyram Copeland said he had ever seen at a city meeting — poured into City Hall to hear details about the predicted 65-foot river crest on May 22.

Copeland and Sheriff Randy Maxwell had met with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials that morning.

“Basically, we told them we wanted to know the facts,” Copeland said. “We are going to tell you everything that takes place when it takes place.

“We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”

Copeland told the standing-room-only crowd that all parish residents needed to be prepared to evacuate as if it were a hurricane or a tornado, but did not say that evacuation needed to occur now.

“We will keep you informed; we will give you plenty of time to evacuate,” he said.

But Copeland urged residents to prepare now and be ready to head to higher ground if needed.

The city and parish will use Code Red weather alerts to update residents on the situation. Code Red is an emergency warning system that calls all registered users to warn them of weather situations.

Residents can sign up for Code Red by visiting http://tinyurl.com/3rwcd8r or

calling City Hall at 318-336-5206.

The city and parish will also provide updated information to all local media sources, they said.

Preparedness is in order, Maxwell said, but panic is not.

“I’m confident we can withstand 65 feet; the corps is confident,” he said.

Maxwell said though many people are asking questions about pumping stations and spillways at Old River at Morganza, those options will only be used when water levels defined by the Corps of Engineers are met. Local leaders can do nothing to influence the decision, he said.

“The Corps is very confident in their plan,” he said. “Every thing I know that can be done is surely being done.”

Both Maxwell and Copeland said they believed the Mississippi River levee at Vidalia would hold, and that if the levee were breached to the north, a second ring levee that wraps nearly all of Concordia Parish would prevent rushing waters from entering the parish unexpectedly.

They said the area should have between three to seven days to prepare if water is coming.

If an evacuation is needed, the best route is straight across the bridge to Natchez.

City of Natchez and Adams County leaders have offered whatever assistance is needed, Copeland said. Several Mississippi leaders were on hand at Tuesday’s meeting.

Other points of interest at Tuesday’s meeting:

4 CPSO inmates are available for sandbagging, and no volunteers are needed at this time, Maxwell said.

4 Driving or walking on the levees will lead to immediate arrest if caught, Maxwell said.

4Alderwoman Mo Saunders said she’s received numerous calls from residents asking if they should move furniture and belongings to higher ground in Natchez.

“If it will make you feel better and sleep better at night, then do it,” she said. “We don’t think it’s going to be a problem, but you only have to move it back.”

4 Copeland and Maxwell said a high number of rumors swirling around the parish are causing unnecessary trouble.

“There are a lot of rumors going around, and the worst thing that can happen is rumors that are not true,” he said.

Both men asked that residents ignore rumors unless verification has come from city or parish leaders.

After the meeting, Copeland said buildings on the riverfront likely will be closed this weekend, when the city cuts off their electricity. Each building and the town water well will soon be surrounded with a type of instant levee approved by the Corps.

“Each complex will be like it’s a little island,” he said.

Ferriday Mayor Glen McGlothin said the town will have an informational meeting for the public at noon Thursday in the former Ferriday Junior High gym.