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Mississippi rates Gustav response

Mon., Sept. 8, 2008

GULFPORT, Miss. – If state and local officials received a grade for their preparation for Hurricane Gustav, most of them would get an A or a B.

Emergency managers and elected officials said the lessons they learned from Hurricane Katrina made them more and better prepared for Gustav.

City and county leaders had fuel reserves on hand, and they checked generators and other equipment before the storm hit. Also, sandbags were available to residents days before Gustav hit.

At the state level, members of the National Guard were put in place on the Coast in advance of the storm, and food, water and ice were stored in Jackson so people who needed these supplies could get them as quickly as possible.

The state evacuation plan was implemented for the first time during Gustav, and buses from the state Department of Education were used to transport coast residents to shelters in Jackson.

“There were some things that were virtually flawless,” Gov. Haley Barbour said, referring specifically to the evacuation plan and the availability of the National Guard. He also was pleased that the state port at Gulfport removed all the containers several days before landfall.

“It’s an awfully good report, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn some things,” he said.

One of those lessons was that there were more buses available than needed to evacuate residents. But, Barbour pointed out, that’s something easily fixed.

“There’s an enormous difference between the plans for Katrina and the plans for Gustav,” he said. “We had a plan for Katrina, but what nobody planned on was utter obliteration. Maybe we did more (last) week than we had to, but we were prepared.”

Mike Womack, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, and local emergency officials agreed.

Womack said his concern was the number of people who stayed in mobile homes, FEMA trailers and Mississippi cottages, despite Barbour’s call to evacuate from those types of residences the Saturday before Gustav hit.

“Overall, I’d give us a B+ because there were people who didn’t heed our warnings and the governor’s warnings and rode out this storm in temporary housing,” he said. “Any property that flooded in this storm would have been devastated in Katrina.”


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