Mississippi and Louisiana officials hope an exercise next week will answer some questions about how to evacuate the New Orleans area during a major hurricane.
"This will be a hurricane evacuation exercise which will give us a chance to work out evacuation problems,'' said Amy Carruth, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
Mississippi and Louisiana have agreed to turn all four lanes of Interstate 59 into a one-way highway out of New Orleans if a category 3 hurricane threatens. A hurricane reaches category 3 status when it has sustained winds of 111 mph to 130 mph.
Using Interstate 59 as an evacuation route - called contraflow - would funnel thousands of evacuees into the Hattiesburg area and would create massive problems, said Terry Steed, Forrest County Emergency Management Agency director.
One of the challenges is the loss of Camp Shelby as a shelter because it is now a mobilization site for National Guard troops.
"I am concerned because we need some kind of plan on what to do with the people when they get here,'' Steed told the Hattiesburg American editorial board Tuesday.
Steed said he's concerned with how to get emergency vehicles on I-59 if all four lanes are northbound. He also had questions about evacuation points, security at shelters and if the state will get a pre-landfall emergency declaration, which would free up additional resources.
Carruth said there is a comprehensive plan already in place for handling traffic if the contraflow plan is put into action by the governor.
"We are updating our shelter plan now,'' Carruth said. "We revise our hurricane plan every year because of the growth on the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.''
She said at the same time the contraflow plan is enacted, the governor will request a pre-landfall federal declaration which would open the door to getting resources into the state before the hurricane hits.
Carruth said it is up to local jurisdictions to develop plans for emergency services and shelters in their counties.
"We will supply what they need, but they have to tell us what that is,'' Carruth said. "If they need 60 law enforcement officers, we will supply that.''
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)