Preparing key for emergencies

Published 12:07 am Friday, June 22, 2012

NATCHEZ — It’s been four years since the Miss-Lou experienced a hurricane, but residents shouldn’t be tempted into complacency.

Instead, Adams County Emergency Management Director Stan Owens said locals should have a culture of preparedness when it comes to hurricanes.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, hurricane season for the Atlantic Ocean began June 1 and ends Nov. 30. NOAA predicts a “near normal” hurricane season for this year, with a 70 percent chance of nine to 15 named storms forming in the Atlantic, four to eight of which could strengthen to hurricane force.

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As of Thursday evening, NOAA said a 70 percent chance existed that a tropical cyclone would form in the Gulf of Mexico in the next two days.

If those odds prove true, Owens said residents should have three days of non-perishable goods and three days of water — a gallon per person per day — on hand for each storm event.

Residents also need to ensure they have a supply of medications or any other special needs — for example, diapers for infants — on hand as well, Owens said.

“The first 72 hours is on you,” he said. “You need to be prepared to be self-sufficient for three days. All of the government and private agencies are going to be busy taking care of the people who had to evacuate from those areas.”

The emergency management director said he also recommends having a full tank of gas in vehicles three days before the storm lands, and cash on hand because ATMs won’t work if power is out. People need to make arrangements for their pets in the event of a storm, he said.

“One of the really important things to have on hand is a battery-powered NOAA weather radio and a battery-powered FM radio,” Owens said. “If the power goes out, that is how you are going to get information from the National Weather Service.”

Should a hurricane make landfall and residents to the south evacuate, Adams County has seven shelters in which they can be housed, located at Parkway Baptist Church, Community Chapel Church of God, the Steckler Building, First Baptist Church, Crosspoint Church, New Beginnings Baptist Church and Pilgrim Baptist Church.

If shelters are to be opened, the Parkway, Community Chapel and Steckler shelters would be opened first, Owens said.

“Adams County is not the first point of evacuation, but the way they work the contra flow on the interstate, U.S. 84 is one of the first exits off of I-55, and it seems that as soon as they get off the interstate and get some gas, the evacuees head this way,” Owens said.

However, opening shelters is not something the county considers before the last minute, Owens said.

“Since Adams County has such a high potential of being in harm’s way to begin with, we don’t want anybody to come here from out of town only to get hurt,” he said.

And Owens said that was one of the lessons of the area’s last major storm, Hurricane Gustav.

“We were in the crosshairs of the storm, and we had people coming here and parking, but we were telling them you need to move on because we are going to get hit,” he said.

Owens said in recent weeks he has had meetings with the American Red Cross and has been to a hurricane preparedness seminar to stay up-to-date.

And that’s part of the culture of preparedness, he said.

“Normally, we get plenty of advance notification if a storm is coming, so be sure to take care of yourself and your family,” he said.