Mississippi Officials Discuss Need to Improve Hurricane Evacuation

January 6, 2009

Mississippi officials want to improve emergency traffic flow from Louisiana in Pearl River County and Poplarville, where evacuation traffic from Hurricane Gustav created congestion and confusion.

The current contraflow process sends traffic from Louisiana into Pearl River County, just south of Poplarville. In September, Gustav forced evacuation by many motorists unfamiliar with the area’s roads and streets.

Officials say some hurricane evacuees got lost, while others crowded into unprepared service stations and other Poplarville businesses.

Things might have gone more smoothly if there had been more workers to help control the traffic, Pearl River County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin Jr. said.

“Somewhere or another, we need some help on that front end,” Lumpkin said during a meeting with Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson and Byron Thompson, deputy director for the state Office of Homeland Security.

County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley said he is working with local businesses to get them to think ahead and prepare for the increased traffic.

More law enforcement personnel from the state would keep local law officers from having to work more hours than they should, officials said.

“You got chiefs of police in Picayune and Poplarville directing traffic for 12 hours. They need to be out doing other things,” Thompson said.

Contraflow restricts all lanes of Interstate 59 and Interstate 55 in Mississippi to northbound traffic only. It was first implemented before Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and can only take place when agreed to by the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi during category 3, 4 or 5 hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

The contraflow begins in Louisiana, extends into Mississippi and ends just south of Poplarville for I-59 and just south of Brookhaven for I-55.

“It’s a work in progress and we learn something every time we do it,” Simpson said.

Extending contraflow up to Hattiesburg has been considered, especially since that city is larger than Poplarville and could better provide services to weary evacuees, Simpson said.

The only problem with that plan, officials say, is there are not enough available physical resources to bring contraflow up that far north on I-59.

Pearl River County officials say they need more help and assistance before a storm hits rather than after a hurricane comes ashore.

Simpson said it may be that the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, the National Guard or other organizations could station personnel in areas where help would be needed before a storm. Simpson said he will meet wildlife officials this month to discuss bringing them into the traffic flow plan.


Information from: Picayune Item, http://www.picayuneitem.com

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