Hurricane Shelters Discussed At Meeting

South Mississippians have a much better idea where they can ride out the next tropical threat. The American Red Cross has plans to open at least 400 storm shelters across the state. Another 300 shelters of last resort could also be opened in the event they're needed. However, just 11 of those facilities will be in the three coastal counties.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services hosted a meeting at the Biloxi VA Tuesday morning so the state and the coastal counties could share storm shelter ideas, and identify shortfalls with their plans.

Butch Loper was at the meeting.  He's the Jackson County Emergency Management Director.

"We're as ready at the local level as we can be," he told the group.

Loper does have one very large concern about hurricane shelter preparations. He still doesn't know what will happen to all those people living in FEMA trailers. At last check, Jackson County had 5,999 temporary trailers scattered around inland properties.

"And how many more people out there do we have that are back in their houses that aren't completed?" he wondered. "Having so many unknowns really is what worries me so much."

If another Katrina hits south Mississippi, the Mississippi Department of Human Services knows about 45 Red Cross approved shelters that can open in the six coastal counties. Just five of those shelters would be in Jackson County. Harrison County also has five locations the Red Cross considers safe. Hancock County has just one -- at Hancock North Central Elementary School.

John Albert Evans is the deputy director of Hancock County's emergency management office.

"We're real concerned. Our main focus is to get people to evacuate," he said.

One of the new plans in place is a bus transportation program, implemented by MEMA, to get people out of town. Forty-eight hours before a storm's projected landfall, buses will arrive from north Mississippi and go to pick up points at East Central High School, Harrison Central High School, and Hancock North Central Elementary.

Jackson County evacuees will be bused to Meridian. The Harrison and Hancock County evacuees who use the buses will go to Jackson.

One item that still has to be ironed out is how the state department of education can provide some of the food at local shelters. A department of education representative at the meeting said any USDA groceries in Jackson or Laurel warehouses at the time of a storm will become supplies for people in hurricane shelters.

Cheryl Sparkman ran the Tuesday morning meeting.

"I feel very confident that we're going to be ready whenever an event happens," she said.

If you have pets, Sparkman says the state will open a pet shelter at the fairgrounds in Mississippi's capital city. School superintendent Henry Arledge says Harrison Central High School will also be a pet friendly shelter during hurricanes.