GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Gov. Phil Bryant made a trip to the Gulf Coast Friday where he plans to stay throughout the weekend ahead of Tropical Storm Barry’s landfall.
Bryant spoke at the Harrison County Emergency Operations Center regarding his concerns on what impact the severe weather will have on the Gulf Coast.
“It’s troubling, and I’ve been out here a lot for many storms and this wind’s a little stronger and more intense than I thought it might be at this time,” he said. “We’re still a good ways away. Late tonight, maybe early in the morning, we see the full effects of this tropical storm, especially Hancock County, but it is troubling to see the wind, the amount of sand that is on the road. I would tell everybody stay off the beaches. This is not a time to play in this storm. Stay out of the water, particularly. We don’t want to lose anybody because they think that they may have a good time in this storm. This is nothing to play with. This is serious, and it’s going to affect the entire state.”
Bryant also expressed his concerns of making sure the Gulf Coast was ready for anyone trying to avoid the worst of the weather.
“If you look at the topping of those levees, that happens, and we hope it doesn’t, then you will be talking about people leaving New Orleans and coming this way, so we could have any large number of refugees coming out of New Orleans, so we’ll try to make sure we have shelters open. We have about 17 counties where shelters are either open now or in the event will be open very soon. I think now it is Hancock and one other county that has them open, but we’ll have to look at how would we would with those individuals who would be coming out of New Orleans and into Mississippi, so we’ll do our very best to accommodate,” he said.
He stressed how this storm could have a greater impact on the west coast of Mississippi.
“It really hasn’t formed up. If it begins to build over that warm water and it really gets some structure to it, it could slam into New Orleans we we talked earlier, and then you’ve got people trying to flee New Orleans, primarily coming into Pearl River County and Hancock County. So we’ve got a lot of water, as we talked about earlier. This wind is troubling. It is more intense and longer lasting than I’ve seen in a while, so you’re looking anywhere from 20-45 mph winds throughout the night into the morning. There’s going to be a lot of sand on the roads, so if you don’t have to go on Highway 90 tomorrow, do not.
“I’m troubled also by the loss of the economic impact this has had, the loss to hotels and restaurant businesses. a lot of that will be devastating through this time, so we’ve reached out to three or four different federal agencies. I talked yesterday to the Secretary of Commerce to some relief for fisheries. Obviously, FEMA is here already. They’ve been a really great partner to us, but it will be a long night and a lot of work into the future once we assess the damages and how we might reach out to our federal and state partners for relief.”
Officials were preparing Friday for any water rescue situations, as Bryant explained.
“At Camp Shelby we have a 24-man boat team through Homeland Security, so they are ready in the event we have to come in and rescue someone in a high-water rescue, and they do a marvelous job, but they cannot get out in the middle of the night, so it’s important right now to realize you need to have a personal plan. Make sure you don’t drive through high water. Make sure you’re not on the water. don’t get in the boat and try to go out in the water, so we would rather we would not have to use them, but in the event we have to rescue people who are in high water, we are ready and prepared to go in with every asset that we have. This is going to be a tough storm and we need to be prepared.”
With flooding a major concern ahead of Barry’s landfall, Bryant addressed Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s call on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to open the Morganza Spillway to relieve the effects of the Bonnet Carré spillway on South Mississippi.
I appreciate what he’s doing because not only now are we looking at why the Corps has not been able to manage some of this water. Now they do a really good job, but we need to do a better job. We need to give them the flexibility they need to be able to open those structures and allow some of this water out of the Mississippi River so we’ve been working. I met with R.L. James, head of the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington two months ago, but not only now for this event but years to come. We don’t want this in 2020 or 2024. We got to find a way to be able to relieve this water in the Mississippi, particularly for those counties in the Delta that has been underwater since February, but also the counties along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Pascagoula River and other tributaries that will be flooding as well as long as we cannot relieve that Mississippi and high water when it comes."
For the latest information on Tropical Storm Barry, stay tuned to the WLOX First Alert Weather team.