As the Tri-City area enters the thick of the 2012 hurricane season, parish officials are calling for residents to prepare in advance for the possibility of a major storm striking the area.
St. Mary Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Duval Arthur said when a storm is threatening to enter the Gulf of Mexico, as is currently the case, his office is in constant contact with the National Weather Service to be able to make emergency plans and warn the public.
But residents must also do their part to ensure their safety by planning well before a storm approaches St. Mary’s coast.
“The first thing, the most important thing, is to have a plan before a hurricane enters the Gulf of Mexico,” Arthur said. “Be sure to prepare and have a place to go before a storm is in the Gulf. Plan with family ahead of time so you have family members that know you are coming when a storm is eminent. Also, let other family members know where you will be and how to get in touch with you.”
Arthur said evacuees should also bring at least three or four days of clothing, hygiene products and medicine, as well as food.
“Don’t forget food if you are staying with family during a hurricane,” Arthur said. “Don’t leave home empty-handed. Bring sandwich stuff, chips, snacks, fruit and staples from the freezer so you are not a burden on the family you are visiting. If you have to leave, prepare as if you will not be able to return home for a while.”
As a general guideline, he said for Category 1 and 2 storms, evacuation is voluntary. For Category 3 storms, it depended on the strength of the storm. Category 4 and 5 storms generally warrants mandatory evacuation, especially for storms like Hurricane Rita that pushed a lot of water inland and flooded about 400 homes.
For emergency personnel such as doctors, nurses and law enforcement personnel that evacuate with family, Arthur said to not forget to apply for an early reentry pass so they can return to work as soon as possible. The passes can be picked up at his office in the parish courthouse in Franklin.
State agencies reported they are also ready to respond if tropical weather threatens Louisiana.
Officials from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Louisiana State Police, Louisiana National Guard, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Louisiana Sheriffs Association met Wednesday to review the state’s preparedness plans as the region enters what is considered by many to be the height of the Atlantic hurricane season.
“In Louisiana, we know all too well how dangerous and destructive late summer hurricanes can be, which is why we gathered key officials today to discuss the state’s plans and preparations for tropical weather,” GOHSEP Director Kevin Davis said. “GOHSEP and its partners stand ready to respond if a storm threatens Louisiana and we encourage our citizens to review and update their emergency game plans now, before severe weather affects our communities and threatens their homes.”
According to a GOHSEP release, August and September have traditionally been active times for hurricanes to affect Louisiana.
Since 2005, the state has responded to four major, destructive hurricanes at this point in the season: Katrina (Aug. 29, 2005), Rita (Sept. 24, 2005), Gustav (Sept. 1, 2008) and Ike (Sept. 13, 2008).
Earlier in the year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a “near normal” Atlantic hurricane season, with between nine and 15 named storms, of which four to eight could strengthen to a hurricane, with the possibility of one to three of these storms becoming a major hurricane, ranking Category 3 or above.
Since May, there have been four named storms — Alberto, Beryl, Chris and Debby — that have threatened the Atlantic coast. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.
—The state of Louisiana encourages all citizens to assess risks to their family’s safety to plan accordingly, including creating an emergency kit of necessary supplies and documents that your family will need, readying your home for severe weather, locating a place to stay if there is an evacuation of your community and identifying information sources to help your family make decisions about its safety.
—An emergency kit should include three-to-five days’ worth of food, water and medications and clothing for your entire family, an evacuation map, a first aid kit, battery powered flashlights, lantern and radios and extra batteries. Kits should also include chargers and extra batteries for cell phones.
—Make sure to pack vital records and important documents like birth certificates, driver’s licenses or identification cards, social security cards, proof of residence and copies of insurance policies in a portable waterproof container.
—To become digitally prepared, save important phone numbers in your cell phone, including your parish Emergency Operations Center, the Louisiana State Police Road Closure Hotline and your electric company. You can find a list of important numbers on www.getagameplan.org. You should also save important website addresses like http://emergency.louisiana.gov, in the Internet browser on your smartphone.
—For more tips and a full list of supplies to include in an emergency kit, visit http://www.stmaryohsep.org and www.getagameplan.org. When disasters strike, state agencies post emergency information online at http://emergency.louisiana.gov.