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Area agents say Oktibbeha Co. is ready for storm

August 27, 2012

While no portion of Isaac is expected to make direct impact on the Starkville area, emergency planners are preparing for any adverse conditions the storm brings with it.

Regardless of where the storm travels, projections indicate Starkville and Oktibbeha County will see significant rainfall as well as the potential for straight-line winds and tornadoes.

State Climatologist and Mississippi State University geosciences professor Charles Wax said reports from the National Hurricane Center have changed by the hour, but as of press time it is predicted that the Starkville area will receive anywhere from 5-8 inches of rainfall and winds up to 20 miles per hour for extended periods of time.

NWS reports the eye of the hurricane will likely move west of the Oktibbeha County, a factor Wax says does not play in the area’s favor.

“It’s very important as to which side of us the hurricane track lies. If the hurricane goes to the west of us the winds will be up out of the Gulf, which will give us tropical air. Therefore it’s more humid and you have more rain,” Wax said. “If it goes east, the wind will be coming out of the other direction. It would be coming out of the north, so it would be drier and not as fast.”

Starkville Fire Chief Rodger Mann said he will have personnel on standby as inclement weather approaches and encourages residents to take necessary precautions in advance.

“Our problem this way is going to be straight-line winds, tornadoes or flooding. You want to make sure you’ve got some type of radio as a backup to alert you, preferably a weather radio. You want plenty of flashlights on hand. If you use candles, you want to be careful as to how you use them because they’re a fire hazard. (Residents with generators) need to be cautious as to what they’re doing because there’s an electrical hazard,” Mann said. “We expect to be dealing with downed power lines and trees in roads. If at all possible, (residents should) stay off the streets and let emergency personnel operate as they need to and not have to worry about extra vehicles on the street.”

Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Association Director Jim Britt said crews are working to make sure sewer systems, ditches and culverts are cleaned before the storm hits.

“My concern on this right now is what we saw when (the storm) came across Florida. There were thunderstorms and tornado warnings were well out away from (the eye of the storm),” Britt said. “One thing that is going to work against us in this area is it will be late afternoon into the night when it comes into our area. It’s more difficult to work to fix any power outages when it’s at night. You’re going to have some thunderstorm activity. We could see low-level, short-lived tornadoes. We need to look for these spin-up tornadoes. I think we’ll see some of that.”

Britt said preparations can be taken to prevent structural damage to houses and to stay safe while conditions are dangerous.

“Residents (who) have storm drains around their house want to make sure it’s clear of any leaves or debris,” Britt said. “People with lightweight items (such as) lawn chairs secure them so they don’t blow around and break windows.”

Area hotels are reporting a large increase of rooms being reserved during the days when conditions are predicted to be the most dangerous on the Gulf Coast. Hampton Inn General Manager Gabe Smith said each of the hotel’s 67 rooms is completely booked today and Wednesday and there was little vacancy Monday.

“We were actually looking at a slow week before this began. I left the office late Friday and we still had a good bit to work with, but Sunday I saw we had increased our occupancy by about 20 rooms per night from where we were on Friday. It was a huge increase and very last-minute,” Smith said.

Starkville Hilton Garden Inn front desk associate Sheri Johnson said calls to reserve rooms at the 105-room hotel started increasing Sunday night.

Local Piggly Wiggly general manager Max Stillman said he’s seen a large volume shoppers stocking up on supplies.

“This morning there were a couple of customers here getting batteries and candles. I think there are a few people who have an eye on the storm for sure. I’m sure as people evacuate we can expect an influx in business, and we are prepared,” Stillman said. “We’ve got extra pallets of water and we’ve bought additional batteries to be in stock. We’ve also got pallets of extra coolers for ice (storage).”

Representatives from 4-County Electric and Starkville Electric Department have said personnel will be on alert when the storm comes in the event of power outages or other electrical damage.

“We’ll have all of our guys on hand. All of our equipment is ready and we’ll be watching it starting now all the way through the process,” SED General Manager Kemp said. “We’ll make a determination at the end of day … and do what we need to do to be prepared. If we have major problems we’ll call everyone in and that includes the office staff to assist as needed.”

“We’ll be prepared in case adverse weather comes our way,” 4-County Manager of Engineering Lynn Timbrook said in a release. “We’ve reviewed everything that we can at this stage in our emergency plan preparations.”

Patty Tucker, chapter manager for the Northeast Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross, said volunteers are on standby and ready to provide assistance locally and closer to areas expected to absorb the brunt of Isaac’s impact.

Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman Criss Turnipseed said local patrolmen are reporting to the Gulf soon.

“We’re sending out a special operations group from across the state and different districts. They’re going to stay there and prepare to go out and perform duties asked of them from local governing bodies down there,” Turnipseed said.

Mann said eight SFD firefighters have received emergency training related to events such as this and are members of a Mississippi Emergency Management Association response team. They can be placed on standby at any given time in preparation to travel to and assist in areas that are hardest hit, he said.

“We won’t know anything up until 12 or 18 hours out (until team leaders) may say something. It depends on what they feel like the hurricane is going to do, where it’s going and what resources they feel like they’re going to need,” Mann said. “There is no set template as to how this goes. The event is what dictates the action that MEMA or (The Department of) Homeland Security will set up, but they are available for activation.”

A similar category storm, Hurricane Rita, caused 51 tornadoes in central Mississippi sometime after it made landfall in 2005. Wax said residents need to monitor conditions and be alert in case a similar situation breaks out with this storm system.

“Almost everybody here on the faculty agrees that we’re going to get a soaker. When we have the tropical cyclone … that’s capable of causing tornadoes; not anything over an F-1 (tornado) but there’s the potential for a lot of them,” Wax said. “In central Mississippi there were 51 tornadoes that day. The National Weather Service in Jackson did a fantastic job of keeping us posted on it. They’ll be right on it this time, too, because they’re aware.”

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