State, Coast Officials Preparing In Case Storm Targets Mississippi

Mississippi coast residents should prepare for the likelihood of significant rains and wind by Friday night as a storm system advances in the Gulf of Mexico, the state's top emergency management official said Thursday.

"We are still planning as if this could be as bad as a Category 1 hurricane or more likely tropical force winds," said Mike Womack, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

The National Weather Service said conditions are favorable for the system to become a subtropical or tropical cyclone before making landfall. Computer models show possible tracks across Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana - areas still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

"I would say there is at least an 80 percent chance of significant rainfall and potential of tropical storm winds," Womack said.

He said the system remained very unpredictable but nothing above a Category 1 storm was expected. He noted that even a tropical storm could bring in flooding rains and wind damage.

Womack held conference calls with weather experts and coastal officials Thursday.

Hancock County leaders and residents are especially worried, since so many scars, and so much work from Katrina still remains.

Bay St. Louis resident Mike Ruf watches and worries as a new storm system threatens progress on his new home - the one he's building to replace the house Katrina took.

"No, we don't need another storm. No," Ruf said.

That's the hope and prayer of most everyone in Hancock County.

"We really don't know at this time if it's going to be anything tropical or just be a big rain storm," Hancock County EOC Director Brian Adam said.

County leaders say the threat could not have come at a worse time for Hancock County. Nearly 4,000 residents are still living in FEMA trailers, and thousands of others are right in the middle of home rebuilding projects.

"We're asking people to make their plans. Evacuate if we give the order, especially if you're in a FEMA trailer, low lying area, a regular trailer, a travel trailer or anything like that," Adam said.

Adam admits if it comes to evacuations, there could be a problem. There is only one certified shelter in the County - Hancock North Central Elementary School.

"We're hoping if we have to evacuate, people understand that one: a shelter is a last resort. It's very uncomfortable," Adam said.

Emergency leaders everywhere are reinforcing that message: People have to have a personal plan, like going to a friend or relative's place inland.

Womack said if the situation remains as anticipated, the evacuation announcements could begin as early as noon Friday.