Officials Expect More Evacuees Might Need Help Due to Recession

May 28, 2009

The sour economy might force more people to seek government help evacuating coastal Louisiana ahead of a hurricane this year, officials said this week.

Louisiana is planning for some 50,000 people needing to leave on government-secured buses, trains or planes if a mass evacuation is ordered, said Mark Cooper, director of the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. That worst-case scenario number would be about 10,000 more than needed help leaving ahead of Hurricane Gustav last summer, officials said.

Cooper said the government has secured verbal commitments for additional shelter space, should it be needed.

For the first time, officials also plan to make use of the social networking tool Twitter to keep people apprised of conditions along certain evacuation routes. People would have to sign up for the service and would get specific information sent to their Twitter accounts about evacuation routes.

Officials say the want to keep the media better informed but also want to provide the most updated information directly to residents trying to evacuate.

He said state officials feel comfortable, “absolutely,” with their preparations leading to hurricane season, which begins Monday and ends in November.

An estimated total of 1.7 million to 1.9 million people fled south Louisiana ahead of Gustav, which was a Category 2 storm when it made landfall at Cocodrie, La., on Labor Day.

Officials in Louisiana also is planning to again provide services, such as wreckers and fuel trucks, to help avoid long traffic delays should contraflow — the directing of traffic in one direction — be enacted. Portable toilets on evacuation routes also are being planned.

Contraflow would only be a last resort, officials from Mississippi and Louisiana stressed. They urged residents to have routes mapped out and not wait to leave if a storm threatens until contraflow is enacted. Waiting would only increase the likelihood of traffic snags by putting more cars on the road at once.

In efforts to improve the process over last year, Mississippi is assembling special teams to help augment police forces in small towns, like Picayune, just across the border, to help with traffic and other needs during an evacuation.

Mississippi officials stressed the importance of evacuating north — not trying to cut eastward — citing uncertainties with storm tracks.

“Our clarion call is, scram northbound,” said Willie Huff, director of the Mississippi transportation department’s office of

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