People must have hurricane plans and be ready to leave if an evacuation is called, officials from across the New Orleans metro area said Friday, two days before the start of hurricane season.
“One of the biggest problems we have is getting people to leave when we say ‘Evacuate,”‘ Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said. Presidents of other area parishes and New Orleans Deputy Mayor Jerry Sneed said much the same.
“My understanding is that Greater New Orleans is better protected than ever before,” said Sneed. “But it’s a risk reduction system, not a risk avoidance system.”
He said afterward that about 20,000 people who cannot get themselves or their families out of town for a mandatory evacuation have signed up to evacuate by bus. As many as 10,000 more people may need to do so, he said. They can register for city-assisted evacuation at www.ready.nola.gov or by calling 311.
Nungesser said, “Even now, people tell me, ‘You kept us out too long after Katrina.”‘ People are now being allowed to return to check their property as soon as possible after an evacuation, even before they can return permanently, he said.
He and officials from other parishes and agencies including the Army Corps of Engineers and levee boards said New Orleans and surrounding parishes are better protected than ever before.
There were some exceptions to that. Parts of Jefferson Parish and all of St. John the Baptist Parish are outside the levee system, presidents of those parishes pointed out. Parts of St. John Parish are still flooded from this week’s rain. President Natalie Robottom said, “Right now we have water over Highway 1 without a hurricane.”
Steve Wilson, president of the Pontchartrain Levee District, said the West Shore Project, 18 to 23 miles of levees proposed in 1973 to protect St. John, St. James and St. Charles parishes, has just made it through the Corps’ regional review process and is heading for Washington, where he and others will ask the Corps’ Civil Works Review Board on July 10 to OK the $800 million system. If that board gives the go-ahead, he said after the news conference, Congress will be asked next March to add it to the budget.
Federal forecasters are expecting a slower-than-usual Atlantic hurricane season, with eight to 13 tropical storms and three to six hurricanes, largely because the weather phenomenon called El Nino is expected to suppress the storms’ number and intensity.
But in the end it all comes down to whether one of those storms comes your way, the officials said.
Two very destructive hurricanes – Betsy in 1965 and Andrew in 1992 – occurred during quiet seasons, noted Matt Moreland, emergency response specialist for the National Weather Service office in suburban Slidell.
Jerome Zeringue, chairman of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said, “If you get hit by one, it could be the worst hurricane season ever for you.”
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