Emergency responders "prepare for the worst" as oil slick advances - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Emergency responders "prepare for the worst" as oil slick advances

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Governor Haley Barbour says the state departments of environmental quality and marine resources are "preparing for the worst."

And preparations are ramping-up along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as a variety of agencies prepare for any impact from the oil spill.

Work crews spent much of the day Thursday deploying protective booms around Mississippi's islands and waterways. Supplies are also still arriving at the various command centers along the coast.

One of most important, uncertain factors about the oil spill is the weather. Strong winds from the south and southeast threaten to push the oily mess ever closer to Mississippi waters.

At Point Cadet Marina, emergency responders, contracted by BP, load boats with long sections of oil spill booms. The booms are being deployed to protect environmentally sensitive estuaries and bays from any oil intrusion.

"All this is just pre-emptive, protective measures. There's no immediate threat at this time. Like I said, there's nothing in Mississippi waters. This is just all 'what if' and let's be prepared for what may happen," said Earl Etheridge, a first responder for the Department of Environmental Quality in Mississippi.

Contractors with names like American Pollution Control and Oil Recovery Company will provide a first line of defense for our marine resources.

"We have identified sensitive areas, environmentally sensitive areas. Estuaries where breeding grounds for shrimp, fish, birds have all been identified. And BP has their contractors at this time placing out protective, absorbent booms around those areas," Etheridge explained.

As preparations continue, there remains much uncertainty.

"Not knowing the exact time and true trajectory of the oil as it moves in the Mississippi Sound past the barrier islands," said Harrison County Emergency Manager Rupert Lacy.

Harrison County's emergency manager is keeping a close, anxious watch on the advancing oil slick. One major factor: The weather.

"Nobody can control the weather, of course. Right now, we're going under a coastal flood watch this evening. We know we're going to have that southeast wind, which is an onshore type wind, which is not helping the situation," said Lacy.

One of the two incident command centers in Biloxi is along Old Highway 67 in Woolmarket.  And although the compound itself is off limits to the media, you don't have to go inside the orange fencing to see all the supplies that have been stockpiled for this incident.

As for the question of what's the "worst case" scenario for Mississippi, Earl Etheridge has no definitive answer.

"That I don't know.  There's just too many variable factors to give you a worst case scenario. Anything is not good. It wasn't here before, and we don't want it," said Etheridge.

Etheridge said the DEQ had worked closely with the Department of Marine Resources to identify and try and protect those sensitive bays and estuaries along the Mississippi coast.

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