Alabama in Hurricane Readiness Mode

June 4, 2007

With Katrina memories still fresh, Alabama Gulf Coast residents have begun stockpiling ice, water, food and other supplies just in case this hurricane season turns ugly.

FEMA also will have disaster relief supplies stored at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery three days before a storm’s landfall to fill state requests for them, FEMA spokesman James McIntyre said.

Highway routes also have been designated to take the flood of evacuees away from the coastline if an order to get out comes from Gulf Coast governors.

Many on the Alabama coast already know the drill.

“We have our generator and piles of food,” said Donna Dudley, who has lived on storm-whipped Dauphin Island for 20 years, surviving its numerous storms by fleeing to Dothan or Hattiesburg, Miss., if necessary. “Last year, we did have a new metal roof put on.”

Hurricane Katrina damaged scores of homes on the island’s west end on Aug. 29, 2005, with some disappearing into the churning waters. In 2002, Tropical Storm Isidore flattened a man-made sand berm protecting a stretch of beach most vulnerable to storm surge.

A 4-mile-long replacement berm – 9-foot-high, 50-foot-wide – only recently has been completed. The $3.6 million cost of that project will be paid mostly with federal funds.

The National Weather Service has rated Mobile County “storm ready,” which means certain storm preparation standards have been met, including keeping the public informed about severe weather.

“Storm ready doesn’t mean storm resistant,” said Mobile County Emergency Management director Walt Dickerson. “It is still the responsibility of citizens to make plans in case they have to evacuate.”

He said residents should have at least 72 hours of supplies in case a hurricane strikes. Some look to non-material aids.

“We do a lot of praying,” said school librarian Serra Ferra of Coden in south Mobile County.

Ferra said their home survived Katrina, which destroyed many around them, and they will stock up with supplies, including plywood to cover windows, and evacuate if necessary.

Alabama had an uneventful hurricane season last year, but Dickerson said his office “hasn’t let up since Katrina” in improving its hurricane planning.

Katrina lashed west Alabama from Dauphin Island and Bayou La Batre to Tuscaloosa County.

In Mobile, generators have been placed in shelter locations. Buses will be available for evacuees who need them. The Mobile Civic Center will be a hub for evacuees who will be transported to a shelter outside the city.

Among other preparations, federal officials have recommended flood insurance coverage backed by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program for residents living both inside and outside of a high-risk flood area. The average premium for a yearly flood insurance policy is around $500.

“Too many properties located in high-risk flood areas continue to be uninsured or under-insured against floods,” FEMA’s Federal Insurance Administrator David Maurstad said in a statement Thursday.

After a hurricane, getting power restored to stricken areas is critical, Dickerson said.

“Once you get the power up and running, 50 percent to 75 percent of the problems go away,” he said after meeting this week with Alabama Power Co. officials.

As for evacuation, Alabama Department of Transportation spokesman Tony Harris said the department’s reverse-lane exercise May 14-15 on Interstate 65 was a success.

If Gov. Bob Riley orders an evacuation of the coast, the southbound I-65 lanes could be reversed from just north of Mobile to Montgomery.

Harris said it’s feasible to reverse lanes on I-65, but not on smaller highways in south Alabama such as U.S. 231.

“We do post a number of highways in south Alabama as hurricane evacuation routes,” Harris said.

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